The Wild (The Lycans #6) Read Online Jenika Snow

Categories Genre: Alpha Male, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Virgin Tags Authors: Series: The Lycans Series by Jenika Snow
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Total pages in book: 1
Estimated words: 79968 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 400(@200wpm)___ 320(@250wpm)___ 267(@300wpm)
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Read Online Books/Novels:

The Wild (The Lycans #6)

Author/Writer of Book/Novel:

Jenika Snow

Language:
English
ISBN/ ASIN:
B09NLGKSL8
Book Information:

Odhran

The moment I found her, my fated mate—the only good and right thing in my dark, hollow life—she was taken from me by my enemies.

She was gone, ripped from my arms, a feeling more painful than if my heart had been torn from my chest.

I changed that day. I didn’t see myself as Odhran, loyal soldier to the king of the Scottish Lycans, any longer. I became scarred, emotionless… soulless. 
And over the decades, I became stronger, more deadly.
I turned into a killing machine, a warlord who took lives because mine had no meaning any longer.

I realized I became this male for a reason, a purpose. To take down the organization that stole and enslaved what was mine by right and fate.
And I knew that because I found her. I found them. 
They thought they could take her, keep my mate from me.
They didn’t know I’d destroy them because of it.
Books in Series:

The Lycans Series by Jenika Snow

Books by Author:

Jenika Snow



Odhran

The moment I found her, my fated mate—the only good and right thing in my dark, hollow life—she was taken from me by my enemies.

She was gone, ripped from my arms, a feeling more painful than if my heart had been torn from my chest.

I changed that day. I didn’t see myself as Odhran, loyal soldier to the king of the Scottish Lycans, any longer. I became scarred, emotionless… soulless.

And over the decades, I became stronger, more deadly. I turned into a killing machine, a warlord who took lives because mine had no meaning any longer.

I realized I became this male for a reason, a purpose. To take down the organization that stole and enslaved what was mine by right and fate. And I knew that because I found her. I found them.

They thought they could take her, keep my mate from me. They didn’t know I’d destroy them because of it.

For a list of CW/TW, please visit:

https://jenikasnow.com/books/the-wild/

Prologue

Odhran

I pulled at my cuffs again and growled, letting my wolf rise, allowing them to see how feral I was. I had nothing else to lose in going after them.

Everything that I was, that meant the most to me, had been taken away, ripped from my heart and soul.

And then they stepped aside in unison, and my heart stopped, my wolf stilled, and for the first time in far too fucking long, the meaning of my life was in front of me once more.

And then that happiness, that elation, vanished as I took in the fact that she was being dragged into the room, her slight body clearly unconscious, her long black hair hanging around her face so I couldn’t see her features well. But I didn’t have to see her face to know she was mine.

Larkin.

I snarled with more aggression as they laid her out on the table, strapped her legs and arms down, then pushed her hair out of her face.

Oh gods. I’ll kill them all ten times over.

She had a bruise on her cheek that snaked up to her ear. I felt even more primal now that I saw they’d dared to touch my tiny nymph mate, her species so fragile and gentle, kind and naturally sweet. She’d never hurt anyone, never say a word that would harm another. But here were these soon-to-be corpses, touching what I held most dear.

I looked at the two males who came in first, promising them retribution and a slow, painful death. One had the intelligence to take a step back, fear crossing his face. The other, a cocky motherfucker, just smirked.

“Welcome, esteemed cardholders,” a voice from an overhead speaker announced, and the humans watching through the glass perked up.

The soft female moan that came from Larkin had me snapping my head in her direction and straining against my bonds.

Get tae her. Gods, please let me get tae her. Tae hold her. Tae tell her everything is okay now, and I’ll never let anyone take her from me again.

“Ah, my sweet lass,” I wheezed out, my chest too tight, my heart breaking over and over again as I watched her wake up and fight through the clear confusion. “I’m here, darlin’.” I bared my teeth as a fucker stepped forward. “Ye’d do best tae stay away from her.”

He paused and cocked his head. “Don’t think you’re much of a threat, Lycan.” He grinned and reached out, grabbing a lock of her hair and rubbing it between his fingers.

My eyes flashed as I stared at him. “Ye signed yer death warrant before now, but now that ye’re touching my female…” I felt a surge of power move through me. “Now, I’m going tae make sure I kill ye nice and slow. I’m going tae fooking enjoy tearing yer throat out and offering it tae my mate as a prize.”

Chapter

One

Odhran

The past

I was losing my mind, a beast pacing and clawing, and every day, it got worse. I felt my sanity slipping through my fingers. I once heard a tale of a Lycan in Eastern Europe who’d let the madness consume him, who was more beast than man.

And all because he hadn’t found his mate.

And I was there. I felt it start to consume me like ink spreading out over a table and staining the grain.

A Lycan male had one priority in his life from the time he was born to the time he took his last breath. One single thing that was of the utmost importance, the light of his life, the soul housed in his core.

His heart beating outside his body.

It was the elemental part of him, the only thing in this world that could tame the wild, ferocious beast inside.

And that was his mate.

That single female who was born to be his and his alone. The woman who would awaken every emotion, every feeling, every desire and pain. She’d amplify it, shape and mold it. Without her, he was nothing.

I am nothing.

A shell of a male. Living but not truly alive.

My mate. Whoever she was. Wherever she was.

And I was forever searching for her. Even if Banner, King of the Scottish Lycans, sent me on missions, even if I was out hunting, she was the only thing I could concentrate on.

I stopped and closed my eyes, inhaling deeply as thoughts of her—whoever she was—filled every part of me. That faceless female I’d die for, whom I’d kill for.

And with every passing year, my mate was the only thing on my mind, my need for her growing and growing until it consumed me.

I fought constantly, trained relentlessly with the Guard, the army of the Scottish Lycans. I took on the most dangerous tasks, the most brutal, in order to become stronger, to be so ruthless I could take care of my female when I did find her, no matter the enemy.

As more time passed, I became distant from my clan, letting the desperation fill me that so many of my kind experienced when the years turned into decades and we still hadn’t found our other half. Although I didn’t give up hope, with each passing day, I preferred to be more on my own, my free time spent in the wild, letting my Lycan out more and more.

I’d volunteered for the task of hunting for the clan farther out, away from the protection of my kind, miles upon miles of untouched wilderness as my home. It was dangerous being alone without your king or the Lycan Guard to watch your back. But at this point in my long life, at over two centuries old, I saw nothing but blackness. Felt bleakness.

I felt nothing but loneliness.

I opened my eyes, exhaled through my nose, and continued moving forward. I focused on why I was out here. Prey. I hunted the creature with accuracy and stealth. The buck would help feed the clan, and that was what I told myself to focus on, not my faceless beauty of a mate.

I froze, tilting my head and listening, inhaling deeply and breathing in. I smelled a buck a hundred meters away, hidden, camouflaged in the foliage. I let my inner animal rise up and moved slowly as I followed the trail, picking up the scent as it became stronger.

I leaned against a large tree, my shoulder butting up against the bark as I stared at the massive animal grazing. The horns spread out like curling fingers, and I felt my wolf ready for the hunt.

And there was nothing better than this, the only thing that made me feel anything. Stalking my prey, taking it down, praising and thanking it for the gift of its life that would feed many of my kind and keep them strong and healthy.

We’d use the skin to stay warm, and the antlers would be weapons, utensils. And no meat would be wasted. Everything would be appreciated.

I crouched low, about to let my inner wolf out, about to let him have the pleasure of taking down the creature, doing it the natural, primal way, where it was beast against beast, survival of the fittest.

And just as I felt my eyes flash blue and my bones start to crack and reshape, the wind picked up and blew from the west, and with it came the most glorious scent I’d ever smelled.

Fuck hunting. My instincts pulled me in the direction of where the aroma was coming from. I could hear the creature scurry off behind me, his hooves digging into the earth as he scented the predator—me.

Yet I didn’t care about anything else but finding the source. My ears twitched, my nostrils flared, and I felt my Lycan rise up even more. But I wouldn’t let him out completely, my human side wanting to experience this first and foremost.

And I knew. I knew without seeing proof what I was headed toward.

My mate. Mine.

The Linked Connection was so powerful it nearly knocked me on my ass as I raced through the forest. And the closer I got, the stronger the aroma filled my head, and the louder I started growling. My blood rushed through my veins and filled my ears, my heart pumping fast and hard. It ached from the force.

I slammed my palms down on the trunks of the trees, wanting to push them away, wanting nothing as an obstacle to get to her.

Her. My female. The only important thing in my life.

I didn’t know how long I ran, but I never slowed and in fact felt myself growing stronger, going faster with each step. Because I was closer to her.

I finally broke through the tree line and froze, an electrical current arcing through me at the sight of the wee female just meters from me.

She sat on a small boulder in the center of a field of blooming wildflowers, her arms in front of her, her hands in her lap as she ran her fingers over the petal of a flower she had picked. The long fall of her raven-colored hair gently blew behind her as the wind picked up, as if it too couldn’t stand not touching her, as if it needed to or lest it would forever cease to exist.

Her face was tipped up to the sky, her eyes closed, and her plump red lips curved in a secret smile. She wore a blush-colored shift, tiny red flowers embroidered on the collar and hem that brushed her bare feet. Gods, her toes were even beautiful.

My big body shivered at how tiny she was, at what a wee thing she was. I’d tower over her. And that turned me on. Fooking hell. That turned me on that she was so slight, that she’d need me to watch over her, keep her safe.

I’ll protect her with my life.

I sank to my knees and placed a hand on my chest, over my rapidly beating heart.

The prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.

At first sight, I assumed she was a wee human, but as I inhaled the concentrated scent of her, took that part of my mate into my lungs, I realized she was of the Otherworld.

A nymph—water, to be specific—and quite possibly the weakest species in the Otherworld, only as strong as a human, with no discernible powers but having attained longevity of our world.

And they were strongest surrounded by their element—either earth or water.

I closed my eyes and shuddered. I’ve found her. I’ve finally found her, and now, for the first time in my lonely, gods-forsaken life, I feel like I have purpose.

I found myself standing and stumbling forward, my boots snapping and cracking twigs with every step I took, before I fell to my knees. I snapped my eyes open at the same time I heard her gasp.

She spun around, the long fall of her raven hair swinging wildly behind her to finally settle over one shoulder. She had her hands pressed to her stomach, her fingers curled around her shift.

For long moments, we just stood there staring at each other. She backed up a couple of steps, but I stayed where I was, on my knees, because I didn’t want to frighten her. I held my breath, too terrified to even blink because I feared this would all vanish.

She licked her lips, and I was riveted to the sight of her moistening that plump, red mouth. Gods, she was tiny. Less than half my size, a slip of a little thing.

I placed a heavy hand on the tree beside me, my other hand out in front of me, palm toward her in supplication. I placed one foot on the ground and stilled, showing her that I wasn’t trying to do anything swift and didn’t want to frighten her further.

When she didn’t seem afraid, I dug my claws into the bark and placed my other foot on the ground, slowly rising. Her eyes widened as I rose up, up, and up until I stood tall and proud at my six-foot-seven-inch height.

She murmured something in her native tongue, low and breathy, before blinking rapidly and shaking her head.

I inhaled her scent again and couldn’t help the low rumble of pleasure that left me. She smelled so sweet, like new blooming flowers with a hint of sea salt in the air.

She started speaking softly again, her words rushing out of her quickly as she finally took another step back. I couldn’t understand her language. Maybe she’d speak Gaelic?

“There is no need for ye tae fear me, lass. Do ye no’ recognize me as yer mate?” I spoke the Gaelic softly, trying to keep the gruffness out of my voice, trying to keep the growl out of the words, because my Lycan was so close to the surface.

I was all but shaking, trying to rein him in. But I knew my eyes glowed, knew she could probably sense the feral side of me coming out.

She spoke again, her focus on my twin glowing orbs. I felt my own confusion fill me and explode outward. My mate didn’t seem to know what I was, didn’t seem to recognize me as the beast I was. But surely it was impossible she didn’t know of the species in the Otherworld, being one herself?

And when she took another step back and shook her head, I cursed low and exhaled roughly. I was a patient male, but seeing my mate just meters from me, knowing that I was frightening her right now—even inadvertently—had a pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced spearing through me.

It was very clear she didn’t understand my native tongue, and I racked my brain with how to communicate with her. Maybe English?

“Do ye understand English, lass?” I wanted to go closer to her, to wrap my arms around her and envelop my body around hers, protecting her slight form, taking in her scent, the feel of her body against mine. And staying back was so fucking hard.

I still had a hand braced against the tree trunk, my nails gouged in so deep I could feel sap seeping out of the trunk and covering my fingers.

She wet her lips and nodded. I curled my fingers deeper into the trunk, hearing the bark split as I watched the slide of that small pink tongue dragging across her full bottom lip. Gods, my cock was threatening to burst free from my leathers. I tried to make myself smaller, praying to the gods she wouldn’t look down and notice what I was sporting. Surely that would frighten my wee girl.

I cursed low. “Bollocks.” I looked down at the ground and lifted my free hand to rub it over my face. I could feel the beard covering my cheeks and jaw, the days upon days of me in the wilderness probably having me look more feral than I really was.

Although right now, I felt like a primitive beast wanting to take my mate to the forest floor and claim her until there was no doubt in anyone’s mind she was mine. But I was more civilized than that—or at least that’s what I told myself. I would never scare her, never want to force myself upon her. When she gave herself to me, it would be with moans on her breath and her hands on my body.

“I’m fooking this all up.” I ground my back molars and looked up at her.

Her head was slightly tilted to the side, her eyebrows pulled down low as she stared at me. “Who are you?”

I closed my eyes and felt my body sway at the sound of her voice. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard, and it went straight through me like a shot of heat, lighting up every dead, hollow part of me. My blood sang, my heart raced, and I felt the sweat bead across my brow.

“Odhran,” I said gruffly and cleared my throat. “Odhran of the Scottish Lycan clan, lass.”

Her English was impeccable, with only the slightest accent from whatever her native tongue was. “You’re far from home, Odhran.”

Ah gods… the way she said my name. “Aye.” That lone word was gruff and serrated from my lips.

“I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you before,” she said softly but kept her distance from me, her hand still clenching her shift. “Yet… I have the strange and inexplainable sensation that we’ve met before.”

Her brows were pulled down even lower, and the tone of her voice suggested she was speaking to herself, confusion thick in the melodic tone.

“But that’s impossible.” Those last few words were whispered so low that if I hadn’t been a Lycan with supernatural hearing, I wouldn’t have caught them.

“No. Ye donna know me in the sense we’ve met before,” I said harshly and exhaled, willing myself to calm down, ordering my Lycan to stay back lest we scare our tiny female. “But even still… no’ impossible. Lass, donna ye recognize me for who and what I am tae ye?”

The delicate, dark arches of her brows pulled down once more, a little furrow between her eyes. The confusion on her face was thick but adorable. She didn’t speak for several long seconds, and I didn’t pressure her, didn’t rush.

I had all the time in the world. Everything I’d ever done, experienced, felt, was for this one moment, when I finally looked at my mate, when I finally felt the Linked Connection solidify in me. Finding your Linked Mate had a sensation moving into every cell, seeping into bone and marrow, making me fully whole for the first time in my life.

Gods, the loneliness, hollowness, and the deep-rooted ache of suffering I’d felt for over two hundred years just… vanished as I stared into her cerulean eyes.

“Are you a warrior?” Her voice was soft.

I was a warrior, but that wasn’t what I was anymore. I took a small step toward her. “I’m yers.”

She slowly shook her head. “Mine? I don’t understand.” Her little hand went to her chest, right over her heart. “It’s beating so fast,” she whispered and stared at me with wide eyes. “I should be terrified of you.”

I took a step forward. “I’d never hurt ye.”

“I know.” That furrow between her eyes deepened. “That is what scares me the most… that I can feel you’d never harm me.”

I was moving closer to her, and a roar of triumph sounded in me that she wasn’t retreating. There wasn’t any scent of fear from her, only curiosity and confusion.

I was only a single meter from her now, and I stopped, inhaling deeply, smelling how sweet she was, how perfect. There was a hint of sea salt that surrounded her, and when the wind picked up and her hair ruffled behind her, I got another shot straight up my nose and into my body.

I swayed again, never before feeling this type of intensity. Adrenaline rushed through my body, one that not even battle could mimic. My Lycan, although pacing and wanting to come out, knew we had to tread lightly. One wrong move could ruin everything, could break the fragile bond I could grow with her.

“What is yer name, a shùgh mo chridhe?” My sweetest. I couldn’t stop myself from saying the endearment.

She licked her lips again, and I forced myself not to groan at the sight. It took her several more seconds before she answered, but I was in no rush. I didn’t have to be anywhere but here, never again for the rest of my life.

For the rest of my days, this female owned me.

“Larkin,” she finally said. “I am called Larkin.” She finally loosened her hold on her shift and smoothed her hands down the material. It billowed softly around her bare feet. “What are you? Of the Otherworld, yes, but I do not know of all the species and have never met one such as you. So—” she paused, and on her face I could see her trying to figure out how to say the words, “—big and fearsome.”

A low growl of pleasure left me at the compliment. Nothing had ever sounded sweeter than my female speaking of my virility.

I puffed out my chest and said, “I am Lycan.” I brought my closed fist to the center of my chest and slammed it against my rib cage once. I wanted her to see how strong and powerful I was, how I’d protect her and provide for her, care for her above all else.

“Lycan,” she said softly and glanced to her left.

I saw the sunlight catch a silver chain hanging around her neck, the delicate necklace hidden beneath her dress. When she looked back at me, I swore my heart stopped beating as our gazes locked.

“I’ve heard of Lycans. You have a beast within you, a wolf you can shift into?”

I stood a little taller and was a little prouder. Did she know of the prowess of my kind? Did she know how strong and powerful we were? I wasn’t bragging or boasting. But I wanted Larkin to know I’d rather die than let anything happen to her.

“Aye. A strong species. The strongest.” She smiled at that, just a tilt of her perfect, red, bow-like lips. I slammed my fist into my chest again but then felt foolish for the act. I didn’t want her to think I was some brutish caveman.

“And you know what I am?”

I nodded, because I didn’t trust my voice.

Finally, I cleared my throat and said, “I do, lass. Although I have never come across your kind in my travels, I’ve heard the tales of the earth and water nymphs.”

For a moment, neither one of us spoke, but I gave her time. I’d give her whatever she wanted, whatever she needed.

“I feel like we’re something special, you and I, Odhran.”

I felt my ears get hot, this strange sensation and feeling moving through me. At first, I had no name to put to what I was experiencing, but then it hit me. My wee girl was making me blush. For the first time in my life.

And then my possessive beast of an animal howled in pleasure at hearing her say she felt the intimate, unique connection we had.

“No, I do not fear you.” She spoke to herself. “I wish for us to get to know each other.” Her focus was clear as she looked at me. “I don’t meet many strangers. My family keeps to themselves. It’s safer that way.”

I nodded, my throat tightening, the protective side of me rising at the very thought of anyone trying to harm her.

I was glad her family kept her hidden and safe. The world was a dangerous, vicious place, not just for species of the Otherworld but for any living creature. And given how vulnerable Larkin was, I wished to keep her locked away so not a hair on her head was harmed.

She gestured to the boulder, and I slowly walked toward it. She did the same, neither one of us breaking eye contact. I sank down to the grassy patch of land at the foot of the rock, allowing her that place to sit.

Once we were both seated, the silence stretched on. I should’ve looked away, but I couldn’t stop staring at her, couldn’t stop marveling at the fact that this miracle happened to a male like me, so unworthy, an undeserving bastard.

The light caught her necklace once more, and I tipped my chin toward it. “What’s that ye got there, neach-gràidh?” Beloved.

She glanced down at the same time she lifted her hand and picked up the delicate chain, pulling out the pendant from where it was hidden beneath her shift. A little anchor caught the light, the silver momentarily shining as she turned it in her fingers.

“It was my sister’s,” she said softly.

I heard the pain clear in her voice at those soft words. I also didn’t miss the fact that she used past tense to describe her kin.

I instantly wanted to comfort her, but I held still and watched as she ran her thumb over the pendant. “My parents had her a century before I was born. You can imagine the shock when I came around.” She laughed softly, and my stomach tightened at the sound. “It took my mother centuries to become pregnant with Brisa, my sister. She was their only child for so, so long, and they weren’t successful in having more, so they didn’t think the gods would bless them again.”

She glanced at me, and I heard a tight pain in her voice. I also saw the surprise on her face. “I can’t believe I just told you all of that. I’ve never shared anything so personal with anyone.”

I felt grateful that she shared this piece of her life with me. It mattered not that I was her mate, the male fate destined to be hers and hers alone. I was still a stranger, and she gave me this gift of her truth.

“I am honored beyond words.” I found myself moving closer to her. I licked my lips, and tried to think of how to word what needed to be said. She was innocent in all ways. Sheltered. So vulnerable, so soft. “Do ye understand what is happening… between us, darlin’?”

She glanced away and didn’t speak for long seconds. I could see the faraway look in her eyes, watched as she lifted a hand and tucked a strand of hair behind her tiny ears. Gods, she was delicate.

“Mates,” she finally whispered, and I couldn’t stop the growl that left me.

“Aye, darlin’. Mates.” I inched closer, my wolf pacing, frantic, salivating to be near her, to be closer.

“And I’m embarrassed to say—” she glanced over at me from underneath the fall of her dark lashes, “—but I don’t know much about being mated. Although my parents are fated, they didn’t talk about their journey and wholly what it means. They’ve always just told me it’s a lifelong bond.” She moistened her lips and ran her finger over the pendant again. Back and forth. “I’m embarrassed that I have been sheltered all my life. All twenty-five years of it.”

The air left me violently at hearing her age. Gods, twenty-five years of age compared to my over two centuries. It seemed almost perverse, the age difference, but that wouldn’t stop me from making her mine. We were bound together in the most undeniable, permanent way.

I’d never give her up.

“I don’t plan on fighting the connection, Odhran.”

My eyes threatened to close in pleasure at the sound of my name on her tongue.

“But… we’ll take this slow? Get to know each other?”

I was right in front of her so swiftly a startled gasp left her lips. I took her hand in between both of my massive ones, gently holding her as I stared into her eyes. Gods, her palm fit so easily in the center of mine, my palm huge in comparison.

I inhaled, making sure there was no fear, no hesitation from her. And I growled low in contentment and pride that my girl was strong in her own right.

“If it takes centuries for ye tae come tae terms with being mine, if it takes even longer than that for ye tae want my mark on yer neck…” I lowered my gaze to said spot, seeing her pulse throb rapidly at the side of her throat under her flawless, alabaster skin. “I just want ye in my life, lass. We donna have tae do anything more than be in each other’s lives.”

Of course, with every passing day of not claiming her, it would grow harder and harder to resist the urge, and the pull would become unbearable and painful to not mark her and fully bond us together.

But I meant every word I said to her. If I never knew her touch, the taste of her lips, or the way she felt clutching at me as I slid in deep… then so be it. I’d gratefully accept anything she gave me and thank her.

If she never wanted the Linked Connection to be complete, I’d still die a happy male that I’d experienced knowing her.

“Okay, Lycan,” she whispered and gave me a smile. “Let’s see how our lives intertwine and how they are meant to be with each other.” She lifted her other hand and placed it over both of mine that still encompassed one of hers.

And so for the next twenty minutes, I raptly listened to her tell me about her sister, who’d passed away from an incurable illness her species was sometimes afflicted with. She spoke of her parents and how they still looked at each other as if they were the light of each other’s world.

I didn’t dare speak a word, just hung on to every one she said. She loved drinking lavender tea and watching the sunset over the horizon. My female went to the water’s edge of the lake by their home every morning and let the gentle waves lap at her bare feet on the shore.

I learned about how the water gave her kind energy, and not being by a body of it made her uncomfortable, and over time, it weakened them.

I’d never been so engrossed in what someone would say next until this moment, not wanting to miss anything. I learned more about her kind and how water nymphs were always female.

She told me a legend on why that was the case for the latter, about how it was said water sustained all things in life, and without it the world would dry and all would die. So water nymphs were always female, because females were also the bearers of life.

Her father was an earth nymph, their power and energy coming from the ground and flowers, the very dirt under their feet, linking them to all things around them.

Compared to my kind and our powers, hers were so intricate, so beautifully unique, that I knew I’d love this girl with a consuming intensity that would make me smile on my deathbed because I’d experienced it.

I smiled now as she talked so fondly of her family and of nature, how she saw all things beautiful no matter what. My wee mate, who couldn’t be more than five-foot in height and weighed no more than one hundred pounds soaking wet, spoke with such passion I felt my heart ache with pride.

“Yer voice,” I murmured when she paused. She looked startled at first but then laughed, and the tinkling sound had me feeling like I was burning alive in the best way.

“I wouldn’t think too deeply about that, Odhran. It is said the voice of a nymph is the most beautiful sound. I can only assume it’s to somehow protect and shield us, since we are known as so physically weak compared to all other Otherworlders.”

I shook my head before she even finished. “No, lass. Ye could sound like a donkey and still have the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard. Ye’d still be mine.” The way she gasped, how her cheeks turned pink, had my throat tightening, my heart racing, and my cock throbbing.

“Forgive me,” she said and glanced away. “I’ve never gotten such compliments before. I don’t know how to take them.” She glanced back at me out of the corner of her eye. “Even if I was compared to a donkey.”

I was frozen for a second but then tipped my head back and bellowed out a laugh, the first one I’d done in… my entire life. It was pure and genuine, and I felt a burst of pleasure pulse through me.

She gave me happiness without even trying.

I found myself reaching out and cupping her cheek, knowing I should have felt shame in taking such liberties with her. But when she lifted her hand and placed it over mine, keeping my palm to the side of her face and staring into my eyes, my heart lurched in my chest.

My breath caught at the electricity I felt from that small touch, by feeling her skin against mine, warm and soft… the softest thing I’d ever felt. I got lost in her sea-glass eyes, drifting away as if I were in the middle of the ocean.

But I didn’t want to be found.

I want to forever be adrift for as long as she is by my side. Just the two of us, nothing to break this spell that claims me.

“What I feel…” Her voice was nothing but a breathy whisper. She leaned in close, tilting her head a little so her cheek was resting more firmly in my hand, my palm holding up the weight. “What I feel in this moment doesn’t make any sense, but regardless, it takes the breath from my lungs and makes my heart beat faster. It makes me feel this funny kind of way, Odhran.”

I exhaled a sharp breath, my body tense, because all I wanted to do was pull her onto my lap and hold her tightly, to bury my face in the crook of her neck and inhale deeply. “Ah, lass.”

She gave me a sweet, small smile, and as our gazes continued to stay locked, I felt myself start to lean forward and saw she did the same. Gods, would she let me taste her?

“We just met,” she whispered when we were only a hairsbreadth away, sharing the same oxygen, the air around us crackling with all kinds of intensity.

“Aye, lass.” My voice was a deep rumble as I lowered myself to her mouth. She worried her bottom lip with her straight, white teeth, and I heard her breath hitch, saw the way her pulse was beating rapidly against the base of her throat.

“I’ve never even been alone with a male outside my family.” Her voice was low, sensual.

My cock jerked.

“So even thinking the things I am…” She trailed off, and I groaned, because gods help me, I was thinking all kinds of filthy fucking things, and the very idea that she was too had my Lycan growling in pleasure.

“Larkin,” I groaned, and lifted my hand to curl it gently around her throat, my thumb right over her pulse.

“What are you doing?” Her eyes became hooded, and she moved in a fraction more.

“Feeling how much I affect ye.” Her pulse beat wildly under the pad of my thumb, and before I knew what was happening, I had my mouth pressed to hers.

She gasped, and I knew I should have eased back, been gentle, but the first taste of her had all the primal desire and need coursing through me. I snaked one hand around to the back of her neck so I could grip her nape.

And then I held her still so she could take the kiss. So that she could feel every ounce of male need I had for her. Only for her.

Her moan was the sweetest fucking sound I’d ever heard. The only thing that could ever top it was my name being moaned from her lips as she came around my cock.

That had a harsh and guttural groan leaving me, and when her lips parted because of that, I plunged my tongue inside. I explored every inch of her mouth, memorizing her heat, the sweet taste of her wetness, the silky feel of her tongue against mine.

So fooking good. Better than I could have ever imagined.

I’d moved onto my knees, really crowding her now. I had my bigger body leaned forward, all but wrapping myself around her as I pulled her forward. When her chest pressed against mine and I felt the swells of her breasts and the hard points of her nipples, my cock jerked, and I snarled against her mouth. I had to calm down, had to take this moment slow.

But she placed her hands on my shoulders, dug her nails against my muscles, and kissed me back harder, as if she were just as desperate for this as I was.

But I was the one to break the kiss and, gods, was that the hardest thing I’d ever done thus far in my life. I stared down at her, my wee mate with her closed eyes and red, swollen lips from my kisses, leaning forward even more as if she needed my mouth back on her. And I was so close to giving it to her.

She’d get everything I had to give until I was nothing but a husk of a male. But even then, I’d be the happiest, feel the most pride that my mate was taken care of and sated. She blinked open her eyes and stared up at me with a hazy expression. A slight smile curled her lips, and I watched as the most gorgeous shade of pink tinged her cheeks when she blushed for me.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me.” Her voice was still breathy, and the fact that I smelled my scent on her drove me mad with the need to take her mouth once more. “I don’t even know you, yet here I am, sharing my first kiss with a stranger.” She stared at me with her beautiful blue eyes and a look of almost wonder on her face. “And I don’t want to stop.” Her cheeks reddened even more, and I groaned anew at how gorgeous she was.

“We are no’ strangers, sweetheart. We may have never met, but our hearts and souls know each other intimately, irrevocably. They know that we belong together. Ye are mine, and I am yers.”

I slid my hand from her throat up to cup the side of her face and stroked my thumb along her cheek, marveling at how warm and soft she was.

“But I should no’ have done that.” Saying the words was like acid in my mouth. “I want tae cherish and take my time with ye. I promise I will be on my best behavior from this point on, lass.” Her smile was shy, and I nearly groaned in pleasure at how pretty my mate was. “Mine,” I growled and was about to lean in and kiss her again, breaking the vow I just made because I couldn’t help myself, when I felt a prickling on the back of my neck. My skin tightened in awareness, and all arousal fled as I became ultra-aware of our surroundings.

My ears pricked, and my wolf stilled as we both listened, scented, and took in every minute detail around us.

“Do you feel that?” Larkin asked and placed her hand over mine, which was still cupping her face.

“Aye, lass.”

We weren’t alone.

“Odhran—”

I was up so fast, my hands gripping her shoulders as I pushed her behind me, keeping one of my thick arms around her waist as I scanned the surroundings. I started speaking in Gaelic, urgent, hard words telling her she’d be okay, that I’d slaughter anyone who came close. I shook my head to clear it when I realized she couldn’t understand, then repeated myself in English.

We stood still for long moments, my wolf rising up, my senses razor-sharp as my beast took control.

At first, I didn’t see anything, but I felt them. So many of them. I could smell their scents. Males. Humans.

And then they came out, slithering from behind the trees like snakes in the grass.

I scented their aggression, the fact that they were here to take from me.

I roared out and gently pushed Larkin an arm’s length away.

“Lass, ye run fast and hard.” She made a strangled noise, and I looked behind my shoulder to see we were surrounded. I bared my teeth, my canines getting longer, sharper.

I reached behind my back and unsheathed my sword, the metal making a whooshing sound as it arced through the air.

I held out my forearm, a barricade for my small nymph mate. I could smell her fear, my female terrified, even though I’d seen the composure on her face.

Gods, my girl is strong.

“My brave girl,” I murmured but kept my focus sharp. “Stay behind me and be strong, lass.”

I faced off with the robed males, the human stench of them causing my jaw to clench and my body to seethe with aggression. My Lycan paced, ready to explode outward and ensure the safety of our mate. And I’d sure as hell use my beast to my advantage, to protect Larkin.

If it meant dying to protect her, sacrificing myself to save her… to never know what she felt like beneath me, to never know what her lips tasted like, or see how she looked with my mark on her neck, then so be it. Because making sure she was safe was all that mattered. It was the reason I was alive.

And so I unsheathed a smaller knife I had strapped to my ankle, handing it back to my female, and when her fingers brushed against mine as she took the weapon, my body hummed, and my possessiveness rose to combustible levels.

My sweet mate.

“I will no’ let them hurt ye.” The words were true, but even as I said them, as I watched these bastards come closer, sensed more coming out of the woods, I didn’t know if I could uphold that oath. And that just pissed me off.

So I let my beast rise, allowing my Lycan to take over. I heard my female gasp in shock, but everything else faded as my wolf came forth and took the reins.

I bellowed out as my skin ripped open, fur taking its place. My bones broke and realigned, and I fell onto my hands and knees, paws replacing hands and feet, my face elongating to a snout, blunt teeth falling out to make way for my sharp canines.

And then my beast was free, a creature feared by most in the Otherworld.

I rose to my full height, quadruple the size of these fucking humans, and tensed, bracing to tear apart every single one of them.

Protect her. Save her.

And at the end of it all, when their corpses were littered around my feet and blood covered my fur and muzzle, I’d get my war prize. Her. My wee, sweet Larkin.

The first two bastards were easy enough to kill, their heads ripping off like a chicken bone snapping in half under my jaw. I scented one getting too close to my mate and spun around.

I felt pride swell within me as I saw Larkin swing out with the blade, catching the asshole on the arm. I pounced, tackling his body to the ground and tearing his throat out. I went after the next human and took him down, ripping his arms from his shoulders, his legs from his torso. I was brutal and savage, not having a humane thought, just letting my beast take control.

And just as I faced forward, they charged. I backed up, keeping my body between them and my female, baring my teeth, bracing myself to take them all down.

Three came at me from each side, and I snapped my massive jaw, ripping flesh from their bones. I felt their blades slice into my body, but I felt no pain. I had so much adrenaline rushing through me, so much power and aggression. Because I needed to protect Larkin, I was never stronger, never more savage, than I was right then.

I heard her cry out and spun around just as someone wrapped their arm around her waist, jerking her off her feet. I roared so loudly the leaves shook above us.

I was on the bastard who had her in an instant, clamping my jaw on his leg so hard I felt the bone pulverize between my teeth. Bodies swarmed me, weapons slicing into me, but at least I got the fucker off her, gave her a chance to move back, away from the carnage.

One male shouted loudly, but all I heard was the blood rushing in my ears and the growls coming from deep within my chest.

And then I saw the glint of his blade catch the sunlight a second before he moved his arm toward me. With half a dozen bodies on top of my massive form, I wasn’t quick enough to move out of the way, to toss the humans away before he struck.

His blade sliced down the entire length of one side of my face, deep enough I felt the skin part, the muscle give way. I roared, blood—a waterfall down my cheek, over my jaw, and steadily dripping onto my chest. But I was too full of aggression and strength and adrenaline to care.

I tossed my head back and went for his throat, ripping out his trachea. But still, the others tried to take me down. There were too many of them, and I felt myself get taken to the ground. I lifted my head as much as I could and searched for Larkin, frantic, feeling panicked about her safety.

And then I saw her, down on her hands and knees, her mouth open wide as she stared into my eyes and screamed.

I tried with one last surge of power to get up, and all I kept thinking was… I have tae protect her. I have tae make sure she’s safe.

That was the last thing I was conscious of right before something hard slammed against the back of my skull, and everything went dark.

When I came back around, the sun had already set, and the scent of blood filled my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and groaned, confused at first about what was happening. I lay naked in my human body, bloodied and bruised, stabbed and with bones broken.

Slowly, the events filtered back in, and my strength returned as the pain and panic consumed me.

They took her.

They’d taken what was mine and left me. I had no idea why they didn’t kill me, why they didn’t take me as well. But it didn’t matter, because now I had to seek vengeance. I knew what it felt like to have my mate close, to know what she smelled like and felt like as she let me stroke her cheek… as she let me devour her mouth.

I felt my rage grow tenfold inside me.

I dug my nails into the earth and pushed my upper body up, my ribs broken and screaming, my head pounding from whatever blunt object they used to crack my skull, and the knife wounds deep and covering every inch of my body. My face was on fire, and I lifted a hand to touch my cheek, hissing when I felt the massive wound. When I pulled my hand away and looked down, I saw my fingers coated in blood.

My body would heal, but the face wound was deep, and despite my Lycan regenerating properties, some injuries were too heinous to heal fully.

But scars or not, the only thing I cared about was finding my mate.

I slowly rose and shook my head, the world spinning slightly as I stumbled, trying to catch my bearings. I focused and inhaled deeply, trying to scent her, trying to figure out what direction they’d taken her in.

But the scent of the gore from the fight, the aroma of the flora and fauna of the forest, and my disoriented head made sifting through the hundreds of scents surrounding me almost impossible.

I walked forward, weaving, feeling as if I’d drunk a barrel full of ale.

I swiped my hand out, digging claws into the bark of a nearby tree, my nostrils flaring as I breathed even harder.

And then I saw something glisten on the ground, catching the light. I froze, my disoriented mind, my unfocused vision trying to make clear what I was seeing.

With my hand still on the trunk to steady myself, I bent down and picked up the delicate chain, holding it up so I could see the pendant swing slightly.

An anchor.

I curled the necklace in my palm, tipped my head back, and roared so loudly, so ferociously, I knew those fuckers who had taken my female heard me… and would know to fear me, because I was coming for them.

I didn’t care how long it took or if it killed me in the end. I was going to find Larkin, and when I did, I was going to exact my vengeance on the ones who took her and destroy them with my bare hands.

Chapter

Two

Larkin

The present

I had never experienced death myself, but I thought about it plenty of times, fantasized about closing my eyes and never opening them again.

And many times over the years, I felt like I was close, that the pain was too much, too bone-crushing, too life-stealing.

Never in my life had I dreamed I’d ever wish for the sweet bliss of never taking another breath, or never feeling my heart race with excitement or happiness. But gods… I thought about it a lot.

I hated myself, cursed the feeling of wanting to take the “easy” way out. Because no matter how much they hurt me, how many bruises they gave me, how many bones they broke, I wanted to survive.

Because I wanted to see him again. Sometime in my life—if fate, or destiny, or the will of the gods decreed it—I wanted to see Odhran again.

Because that one short moment in time that I spent with him all those years ago wasn’t enough. How funny life was, that one interaction with him so long ago would change me so much.

I didn’t know mere hours with my fated mate could make me feel something so pure and harmonious, could fill one with a life experience that could never be matched.

I shifted onto my side and tucked my hands under my cheek, staring at the cell bars in front of me. My body ached, my ribs were sore—healing from being broken—and the soles of my feet were skinned and torn. They’d taken a whip to my feet days ago, strapped me down and allowed a group of salivating humans to watch me cry and scream out as my soles were torn and my flesh flayed from them.

But despite my broken body, the hollowness and sadness, I felt a sliver of strength still burning inside of me.

Recently, they’d given me long stretches of time to recuperate, to heal so they could do their horrendous deeds to me all over again. But I’d take this time to reflect, to reminisce, and to think of a better time and place that I refused to imagine I’d never experience again.

For decades, I’d been in this vicious cycle, this torturous routine where they used and abused me for the sole purpose of entertaining their customers. I’d had my bones broken, knives slicing into my flesh, and whips arching across the air before landing on my back. I’d been electrocuted, tortured to the point my tears had run dry and I passed out.

I’d experienced agony for longer than I’d been alive before they took me, so much that it was my norm. Yet despite feeling broken and ruined so many times, I kept up my strength and told myself I wouldn’t give up, no matter how good eternal sleep sounded.

Time had no meaning down here, locked within a cell, three walls nothing but reinforced concrete and one made of mystically protected metal bars. Not that it did any good if it was woven with magic or not. As a water nymph, it wasn’t as if I had the physical strength to open them, the power to pull them apart or crush the cement.

I stared at the lone hanging fluorescent bulb in the hallway, the buzzing from the electricity moving through it seeming overly loud. I was exhausted, but sleep wouldn’t come.

I stayed on my side for so long my body started to ache. With a groan, I pushed myself up and curled my fingers around the edge of the thin cot mattress. My toes barely touched the cold cement floor.

For long seconds, I didn’t move as I caught my breath, that small shift in movement causing my entire body to scream out in protest.

With a trembling hand, I lifted the edge of my dirty shift and pulled it up. Bruises of varying healing colors marred my thighs and belly, but it was the nasty burn mark on my side that I focused on.

The last time they’d taken me away, they branded me, burning the insignia of their organization into my flesh until I screamed and cried out for Odhran. I’d healed but they kept doing it over and over again until there was no healing the scar.

A starburst with a crescent moon in the center.

I touched the edge of the brand and hissed. I may’ve been one of the weakest species in the Otherworld, but I still had superior healing abilities compared to humans. My broken bones and bruises, the cuts and welts would heal within days. But still… they were hideous to look at, and if done over and over again, they were permanent.

Yet out of all the heinous things they did to me, the only thing I was grateful for was they never violated me in that way. I wasn’t molested or raped, and I had to be thankful for small miracles.

I let my shift fall back in place and stared at the tray that sat by the cell door, my sandwich half eaten, the water bottle untouched.

I closed my eyes and exhaled, thinking about all the Otherworld creatures that were in the same situation, locked behind mystically protected cells, only being let free so they could be tortured. I stayed quiet and listened. I watched. I knew they sedated the males so the ones who could shift weren’t able to, knew they dosed them so they weren’t strong, couldn’t fight back.

But they still did, these supernatural males born and bred to be warriors, to never submit.

My hand automatically went up to my throat, where my necklace hadn’t hung for so long it now seemed like it never had.

I squeezed my eyes shut as memories of being here played through my head. Flashes of when I’d pass the viewing rooms, watching the horror these creatures suffered, listening to the shouts and gasps from the human spectators as they grew bloodthirsty for more.

I always thought of myself as a gentle soul, caring of every life, seeing it all as vital and sacred. But after all this… I wished a painful, slow death for all the humans involved.

And so when I felt a prickling on the back of my neck a second before I heard keys jangling, a lock disengaging, and then a door opening, I knew they were back. The sound of multiple heavy boots hitting the cement as they came closer had me straightening my shoulders and holding my head up. I didn’t cower. I wasn’t ruined or broken.

I told myself that over and over again as I stood, pushing away the aches and pains, the agony that settled into every cell in my body, rooted in the bottom of my feet so it made standing almost unbearable. I faced off with the men who stopped in front of my cell.

They didn’t say anything, just stared at me with their bottomless eyes. They were heartless bastards. And one day they’d get what was coming to them. I’d make it my life’s mission.

It was always two guards who came to take me away, as if I could even take any of them down. One of them had an intense expression on his face, focused solely on me. It was something darker, more depraved.

He was called D.

The corner of his mouth lifted ever-so-slightly in what could only be called a smile of sadistic pleasure. He lifted his hand and curled his fingers around the bars.

“Come here,” D said in a cold, low voice.

I’d fought their demands so many times over the years, fought them physically, scratching and biting, screaming and doing everything in my power so it wasn’t easy for them. But all it ever got me was more pain.

I didn’t move right away, and when I saw his eyes narrow and his mouth thin, only then did I take a step closer, feeling a sliver of power that I’d gotten to him, even if it would cost me. Because I got pleasure in knowing that I could get under his skin.

So even if it earned me a slap across the face or a bruise on my arm as he yanked me forward, I was still going to defy them, because it was all I could do.

I stopped when I was a foot from him, smelling the stench of days-old sweat surrounding both humans.

A part of me used to feel bad for D, knowing he’d probably been brainwashed, warped and twisted into thinking what he was doing was somehow justifiable. But that pity faded pretty fast with the first hit, with the first snarl of cruel words.

He knew what he was doing to all of us, and he liked it.

“D, stop messing with it,” the other guard said.

It. That was what we were considered to them.

“You know Tore doesn’t want us talking to them.”

D lifted a hand to silence the other man. I saw a muscle tic under his jaw as he continued to stare at me. And then he took his hand and slid it through the bars, crooking his finger.

“Come closer, waif.”

It was my turn to grit my teeth at what he called me. I hated that, after all these years, that derogatory term toward me still got under my skin. But this particular guard liked making me feel like less than the dirt on the bottom of his boots.

I was about to take a step back, make him work for my pain, but before I could move, he leaned another inch, wrapped his meaty hand around my upper arm hard enough a gasp left me, and jerked me forward.

My chest collided with the bars, a cry being ripped from me as all that power surged from the metal and coursed through my frame. He had both my wrists in his hands now, forcing me to wrap my fingers around the bars.

I was helpless, because the pain was too great for me to fight. I was immobile, my entire body tense, tears streaking down my cheeks.

“Jesus Christ, D. Enough. Tore is gonna find out you’re playing with her and reprimand you.” The other guard’s voice was harder than before.

“Shut the fuck up, Q,” D snapped but didn’t look away from me. He kept his hand tightly wrapped around me, kept me pressed to the bars.

“I can’t help it,” D gritted out, low. “There’s something about this one.” His brows pulled together, and I refused to be the one to break eye contact.

Let him get off on my pain. I’d show him that I was still strong. I’m not broken.

He let me go but not before I reached out and grabbed a chunk of his hair, pulling him forward with the little strength I had left. I brought him in until his chest slammed against the bars. He cursed, and his arms shot out through the bars, but I stumbled back, breathing hard and glaring at him.

My cheeks were wet from my tears, my throat raw from the cries.

D’s anger was palpable, and the other guard shifted on his feet, looking uncomfortable as he kept glancing down the cell block, as if he expected someone to catch them down here.

“We gotta go now, D.”

I glanced down at my hands, my palms blistered and red, inky black veins snaking up my forearms from the magic that had coursed through my veins.

The pain would fade. It always did, but the memory of it would be forever etched in my brain. It was a scar on me now and forever. Even though it healed, I’d be able to see it, run my fingers over it and feel it.

These moments were now a part of me.

I expected to hear the cell door opening, that his worry had manifested others, but when silence continued to build, I forced myself to look up, to hold D’s gaze.

“Seriously, D. We gotta get out of here. We’re not even supposed to be in this block right now.”

I kept staring, wanting him to see the fire flashing in my eyes. And when his nostrils flared and he clenched his jaw, I knew it worked.

“Look at you,” he murmured in a tone that had me freezing. It held a note of something else, something darker… more malicious.

It was desire.

“I bet you’re so thirsty, aren’t you.” He didn’t phrase it like a question, and he wasn’t speaking about a glass of water for my parched throat.

He and I both knew what he meant. Being a water nymph meant I derived energy from natural bodies of water. I’d been starved of that for so long. They were sparse when they gave me the essential nutrients I needed, wanting to keep me alive but nowhere near strong.

Because broken merchandise was no good to them and didn’t make them money.

So they hosed me down with spring water, and although I wasn’t human, it was absolutely a very dehumanizing experience… to stand in the middle of the cell as they sprayed me like I was a stray dog.

“I say you’re due for time with the hose again, aren’t you?” His voice was low, maybe too low for the other human to hear. He was taunting me, teasing me. This was another form of torture.

With one more prolonged look in my direction, he turned around and started stalking out of the cell, the other guard following him.

I exhaled and stood there a second before shuffling to the bars. Making sure I didn’t touch them again, I craned my neck enough that I could see them leaving and watched as D produced his key card and swiped it across the electronic panel on the wall. The lock disengaged loudly, and both men exited, the heavy metal door closing behind them loud and menacing, like a bullet firing.

I closed my eyes and just breathed, feeling the power of the magic slowly start to ebb from me. Once I felt more like myself, I bent down, picked up the tray with the half-eaten sandwich and bottle of water, and went back to the cot.

And that was where I stayed until exhaustion finally took over and I couldn’t pretend to be strong anymore.

Chapter

Three

Odhran

I was looking at a dead, broken male.

Dark circles ran under my eyes, and my cheeks were hollowed out, my jaw seeming more cut and angled because of it. And a beard covered my jaw and cheeks because I just didn’t give a fuck about my appearance.

The nasty scar that started at my hairline and curved down the side of my face seemed more pronounced because of my gaunt appearance. What I’d lost was reflected in that raised and formed line of tissue. It was my shame, my failure that everyone could see.

I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. But that was how it had been for decades. Since she was taken from me.

Larkin was so close, closer than I’d ever felt her before. And I knew tonight I’d find her. I had come far too close to contemplate or entertain the idea I wouldn’t hold her in my arms again.

I curled my hands around the porcelain basin of the sink, exhaled roughly, and continued to stare at my reflection, feeling my anger grow. I tightened my fingers harder and harder as I stared into my eyes.

Since losing her, I’d let my Lycan take more control, giving my beast more power with each passing day. I was more animal than man, more feral than sane. I was in a perpetual state of shifting, just wanting to let my wolf free and cause destruction, havoc, chaos, and violence.

But I had a sliver of sanity left in me, reasoning, and a journey, a soul-searing mission that was firmly planted in my mind. If I let myself go, let myself become more animal than man, it would be easier to live with the pain. But I didn’t want it to be easy.

I wanted to feel every cut deep within my soul, tearing at my muscles, slicing out the sinew and tendons. I wanted my bones exposed, wanted to feel the agony of it. Because then I’d know I was still alive. I knew there was still a chance of getting her back.

The blue of my eyes seemed listless, dull. I bared my teeth and snarled, hating the male I’d become. I didn’t deserve her. How could I ever protect her after what had happened, after it had been so long since they’d taken her?

I knew she hated me. She had to. There was no other option for letting her down. A male protected his female, and I failed.

“Are you a warrior?”

“I’m yers.”

I heard the stone crack underneath my grip, felt shards dig into my flesh. I smelled my blood and knew there was probably pain. But I didn’t feel any of it.

I let go of the basin and exhaled, staring at my face once more in the mirror. The muted fluorescent lighting in the shitty bathroom caught the gold around my neck, and I stared at the necklace.

I’d had to replace the chain, because I was too big, my neck too thick and wide, but I’d gotten the original silver one repaired and ready… ready to slip it back on Larkin when I had her in my arms.

For decades, I had scoured Scotland, Europe, even reaching as far as Asia, along the Middle East, and down into Africa. I hadn’t stopped, not one time, not for one day.

And then Cian, a fellow Lycan and leader of the Guard, found his mate. His human female ran, and of course he’d chased.

And so I’d traveled with him to America to help hunt her down. I hadn’t expected to find information in the States regarding the Assembly, who I’d learned were the ones who took Larkin all those years ago.

I closed my eyes and hung my head, thinking back to the moment I’d gotten confirmation that Larkin was here. My mind had come up with the horrendous, awful things that had been done to her, how they’d hurt my sweet, fragile female. And with each passing day, I grew more and more angry, rage filling me until it was a black hole inside my body.

I no longer had a heart. That had been taken away from me the moment Larkin was ripped from my arms.

I replayed the rainy night months ago when Cian and I had been fighting Assembly members—an organization run by humans who kidnapped species of the Otherworld for the sole purpose of using us as zoo exhibits—who’d come to abduct his mate. I clenched my teeth when one of the fucking humans admitted they had Larkin, that they tortured her, hurt her… that she’d called out my name over the years.

And ever since we’d found the location of a US base of the Assembly, I’d been more determined than ever.

I was going to infiltrate their facility and would destroy every single one of them. Even if it killed me in the process.

I opened my eyes and saw them flash blue, my wolf ready to tear throats out. Before I knew what I was doing, I was rearing my arm back and slamming my fist against the mirror, easily shattering the glass.

I felt my knuckles burn, looked down to see the cuts along the back of my hand, shards of glass lodged in my skin. I left the bathroom, went over to my duffel that sat on the shitty motel bed, and quickly donned a black long-sleeved shirt, black fatigues, and my combat boots, then tossed a dark jacket on.

Although I didn’t need to blend with the shadows, I was going to use every advantage I had to succeed in bringing home my girl.

Chapter

Four

Larkin

Something was different today, and it wasn’t just because I sensed others in the adjoining cells in this block.

It was something I felt as soon as I woke up, this tension in the air, a rolling, sick feeling that had my stomach tightening and my instincts rising.

But everything had gone as it normally did. They took me out of my cell, humiliated me in front of a room full of humans for their “session,” and now here I was, being taken back to my cell, all my energy gone, my strength depleted, so I just let them drag me like I was a rag doll.

But in my mind, I was somewhere else far, far away. I thought about memories of my mother and father, how my ma fussed over making sure I ate all my supper. I pictured my father, who was a master carpenter and was also working on a new project.

And then I imagined I was sitting on a boulder in a grassy knoll, staring at the clear sky, smelling the fresh flowers and grass, and listening as the wind blew through the treetops. And sitting right beside me was Odhran, his strong presence a silent companion that gave me more strength in these dark times than anyone would ever know.

I smiled a secret smile, one no one else could see because my head lolled forward, and my hair was a curtain hanging around me.

They could take a lot of things from me, but what they could never steal was the memories, the happiness that I clung on to with the last of my energy.

They opened the cell and unceremoniously dropped me onto the cot before leaving and locking me back in.

I breathed out roughly and sensed someone in the adjoining cell, but my mind was so foggy I couldn’t make out what species they were.

“Come on. You know Tore doesn’t want anyone messing with her,” one of the guards muttered. “He’s already gonna be pissed about her face.”

When I heard the door shut, I groaned and lifted a hand to rub my eyes. I wanted to get cleaned up, to wash away the sweat, dirt, and blood. A long moment of silence stretched out, and I felt the person in the cell beside mine staring at me, the focus a heavy weight.

“Assholes,” I said hoarsely, and shifted on the bed, groaning, and forced myself to rise.

“I believe the term ‘asshole’ is kind of a compliment compared to those guys.”

I looked over at the sound of a very clear, female voice. I blinked until I could focus on her. She was human, with long dark hair and a slender form. She also looked pissed, which had me smiling.

She stood there, staring at me, not saying anything else for a while. I was sure I looked like I crawled out from under a rock.

“Are you okay?” She took a step closer but then stopped.

I lifted a hand to push the heavy fall of my hair away from my face. “I’m okay. Thanks for asking.” I glanced at the ground. “I can’t remember the last time someone asked me that.”

The female reached out to grab the bars, but after a second, she let go and looked at her hands, turning them over. She lifted her palms again and hesitantly touched the bars, her brows pulled down in confusion.

“Magically enforced. It keeps everyone in order. Since you’re human, it doesn’t have the same effect, because you’re weaker and can’t break or bend the metal.” I supplied her with what was clearly confusing her. I knew she could probably feel something when she touched the bars, but it wouldn’t be painful. Maybe just a low-level hum.

I stood and took a couple of steps toward her. “It lets the big boys know their place here and who’s in charge.” It was clear I was confusing her even more.

“Where am I?”

I exhaled again, lifted a hand to grab my hair that was tangled and in need of a good wash, and started braiding it to keep it from getting even more wild. “You don’t know where you’re at?” I stared at her. “In hell, sweetheart,” I said with a pained voice. “At least I assume this is what hell would feel like.”

“God,” she whispered.

I laughed softly and shook my head. “Do I look that bad?” I tried to keep a hint of teasing in my voice, because I could see she was on the verge of freaking out. “Actually, don’t answer that. I haven’t looked at my reflection in… gods, I don’t know how long.” I lifted my hand and touched my mouth, feeling how swollen the corner was, knowing it was bloody because I tasted copper on my tongue.

“I’m sorry.”

I shook my head. “They want to remind me who has the power.” I shrugged and dropped my hand to my side.

“Would the two of you shut the fuck up?” a deep, distorted voice barked out, and the female jumped.

“Bane, mind your business,” I said to the male, seeing how frightened the human was.

“Who’s that?”

We were silent for a moment, listening to the shuffling and growling coming from the other cells, followed by the males speaking their native tongues. I walked over to the wall closest to the bars and leaned against it. “Demon. Although they haven’t been bunked in my block since…” I thought about it. “Since I don’t know. A long time. They are a pain in the ass most of the time—at least they are when I’ve encountered them. And that one—” I gestured out of the cell, “—he’s the loudest.”

She closed her eyes and clenched her hands at her sides.

“You’re in the holding cells for an organization that likes to torture, kill, maim… all of the above and more.”

She looked at me. “An organization?”

“They call themselves the Assembly.” I tried to keep my voice light, but I heard the tightness in it. Bile rose in my throat by just saying the organization name. “What’s your name?”

“Kayla. Yours?”

I rested my head back and stared at the stone ceiling, swallowing as I realized this was the first time I’d had an actual conversation with someone that didn’t involve taunts and insults thrown at me. “Larkin. What’s the year?”

“The year?”

I nodded without looking at her, and when she told me, I felt shock fill every part of me.

“Gods,” I whispered and closed my eyes. “So long. So much time has passed.” Of course I knew many years had passed since I’d been taken, but I hadn’t realized just how long it had been.

“You never tried to escape?”

Bane, the clearly nosy male, barked out a harsh laugh. “Fucking escape?” he roared, and suddenly a pound-pound-pound-pound sounded.

I exhaled. “He clearly has no self-control. The males in the Otherworld don’t.” Pound-pound-pound. “I tried escaping. More than once, but you learn fast in this place that if even Bane, a demon the size of a house, can’t bust out of here, then what’s the point?” I looked at Kayla then. “But I tried. I really did… until I just stopped trying.”

“What are you? Who are you?” she whispered.

I stared at Kayla and smiled, but I knew it was sad, maybe hopeless. “I’m no one. I haven’t been important to anyone for a long time.” I exhaled a shaky breath. “You’re human but must be someone’s mate if they have you.”

She nodded. “Adryan.”

I didn’t know who that was, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered when they had you.

“And you?” she asked, but I just gave her another sad smile.

“I’d get some sleep. Since you’re new, they’ll be coming for you sooner rather than later.” I pushed away from the wall and went to the cot, lying down and getting some rest before they came back for me.

Chapter

Five

Odhran

I stood a few feet behind Adryan, leader of the American Vampire Clan and an all-around crazy motherfucker.

If I didn’t need him and his kind’s help in breaking into the structure we were currently scouting, I would’ve kicked his ass and been done with it already.

The psychotic, arrogant bastard was currently staring at the farmhouse down in the valley across from where we were stationed. I could sense the dark rage pouring off him. I knew that feeling well. It had been my companion for a very long time.

And I knew the only reason he was here with us, to finally help us, was because his mate had been taken and handed over to the Assembly.

His very human, very fragile mate.

We arrived in Vermont half an hour ago and were currently canvassing the area. Although Adryan mentioned his soldiers had been here watching the property for a while now, the Lycans wanted to do their own reconnaissance.

I thought over what we’d learned about the place. There were just too many inconsistencies with the property: the deed being transferred many times, the names changing, and a lot of shit seeming to have been buried to avoid whatever it was they were hiding.

And that was a facility owned and run by the Assembly, the corrupt and twisted organization that needed to burn to the fucking ground.

The information we found out on what they’d done with the Otherworlders once they captured them was speculation, given the fact that we’d never met anyone who had escaped. But we’d done enough research, heard enough rumors throughout the years, decades, hell, centuries, that we had a good idea of the monstrous things they did.

My chest clenched at the very thought of my wee Larkin in their clutches. Gods, not just recently, but for decades.

Banner, King of the Scottish Lycans, had flown in for this particular ambush, to take down these bastards who were hurting our kind. He stood beside Adryan, and the two males spoke low.

I could hear a growl come from the head vampire’s chest as he spoke about his mate.

If there was hope that Larkin was in an underground facility under that dilapidated barn in the middle-of-nowhere Vermont, I was going to fucking go in guns blazing.

“Let’s fucking paint the floors red,” Adryan said, and everyone moved into action.

Aye, paint it bloody red.

I stood in the center of an underground corridor that had been built below the barn. It was a state-of-the-art facility, but no piece of electronics, technology, or space-age shit could stop us.

The blood of my enemies covered my chest, arms, and face. And I reveled in pride and pleasure.

And I wanted more of it. I wanted to watch the life drain from every single piece-of-shit Assembly member’s eyes. I wanted to hear them plead for mercy, which I wouldn’t give.

I stood still, silently watching the situation unfold.

After infiltrating the barn and slaughtering any of the Assembly members who came after us, we found the entrance to their facility underground. We decimated any enemy who came at us, bodies littering the floors and blood covering my body. The violence gave me strength, the purpose to do whatever I had to do to get to Larkin.

And after all of that, we now found ourselves at the end of a corridor, the door where I knew my female was being blocked by James, one of Adryan’s soldiers, but who now revealed himself to be a traitor. Not only had he kidnapped Adryan’s mate, Kayla, but he’d turned her over to the Assembly. The fucker had been working with them for far too long, leading a double life, and giving information to the human organization that tortured our kind.

If I didn’t know Adryan was going to end the fucker’s life, I would have gladly ripped his throat out.

And then there was the other male, a human who held Adryan’s mate and kept a knife to her throat. He called himself Salvatore and was a high-ranking member of the Assembly, and a motherfucker I would gain a lot of pleasure from taking out.

But the bastard must have known he didn’t stand a chance, because he shoved Kayla forward with so much force she stumbled and lost her footing. Adryan was in front of her a second later, pulling her up and dragging his tongue along the wound that Salvatore had made when he pressed the knife to her throat.

And then Salvatore was gone, disappearing behind the door he’d originally come through… the door I had to get through to find Larkin.

Adryan handled James the only way a brutal, savage sociopath vampire knew how to.

There were fires burning all throughout the facility from the destruction of the other Lycans and vampires who’d followed us in and tapered off in different directions. The smoke was starting to clog the tunnels, and I could see dark tendrils coming out from underneath the door.

I held my glowing blue eyes with Adryan’s red-hued ones.

“She’s in there,” Adryan’s mate said, and pointed to the door Salvatore had just gone through, her gaze locked on mine. She didn’t have to say who she was. We all knew who she meant.

I felt my beast rise as adrenaline pumped through my veins. My female. Gods, my mate.

“Go!” I roared loudly. “Get your female out, and I’ll worry about protecting mine.” I stared into Adryan’s red, glowing eyes, saw his jaw clench, and could practically hear his warring thoughts. He wanted to stay and help, but his mate’s safety was more important. And I understood that better than anyone.

“Good luck,” Adryan said, low but loud enough that I heard.

I nodded once and then was gone, charging through the door and instantly being engulfed by the thick smoke. I lifted my forearm and covered my mouth and nose, blinking back the stinging sensation behind my eyes as I tried to take in the scene before me, trying to see anything clearly. But the deeper I went into the corridor, the harder it was to breathe. I couldn’t sift through scents, couldn’t smell anything but the fires burning this motherfucking place to the ground.

“Larkin!” I called out my mate’s name in between coughing. “Lass, where are ye? Call for me, and I’ll find ye.”

Silence.

I started coughing again but refused to stop moving, refused to turn around.

I didn’t come this far to give up now.

“Darlin’, say something, anything, and I’ll come tae ye.” I was roaring out now, feeling that familiar panic ignite in me.

I stopped, bent over, and braced a hand on my thigh as I tried to catch my breath, which was impossible with all the smoke. When I reached out instinctively to steady myself, I connected with the bars of a cell. The magic laced within the metal shot through my hand and up my forearm. I gritted my teeth and jerked my hand back before straightening once more and moving forward, calling out for Larkin over and over again until my voice was hoarse and my lungs burned.

But before long, I found myself on my hands and knees, my eyes closed, my lungs desperately trying to take in oxygen that wasn’t corroded with smoke.

I didn’t want to give up. I couldn’t. But when I tried to stand, I fell to my side, my throat burning as I coughed, my lungs on fire.

And that was the last thing I remembered before the darkness took me under and I was no longer able to be strong for her.

Chapter

Six

Odhran

I always thought the same thing when the drugs wore off.

I’m going tae kill every last one of these motherfookers. Slowly, painfully.

I groaned and lifted my arm, the limb feeling heavy as if I had a lead sleeve covering it. I ran my hand over my face, my beard springy under my palm, my mouth dry, my throat feeling as if I’d swallowed a bucketful of sand.

I rolled to my side just as nausea took over. I emptied my stomach onto the corner of the cell. Slowly, reality filtered back in. I could hear sounds, males roaring, someone slamming their body up against the bars. I could hear a female screeching, someone crying.

After passing out in the corridor from all the smoke, I’d found myself in this exact same situation: on the floor in a cell, feeling like I’d been run over by a stampede of stallions.

It didn’t take long for any confusion I might have had to vanish. Human males had come to stand on the other side of my prison bars and only said two sentences before leaving:

“You are now property of the Assembly. Enjoy your time in hell.”

How long ago had that been? Days? A week?

I scrubbed my hand over my face again.

And as the time passed and they didn’t do anything but feed me and make sure I was drugged enough I didn’t put up a fight whenever they showed their faces, they left me the fuck alone.

I just needed them to take me out of the cell so I could tear them limb from limb.

I’d roared and growled for them to tell me where she was, to give me a sliver of information so I wasn’t fucking crazed with fear and worry for her.

But my demands were met with silence and sedation. And asking any of the primal fucking Otherworld males trapped here proved fruitless. They didn’t give two shits about anything aside from not losing their minds.

Although I wanted to destroy every human in this godforsaken place, burn it to the ground, and watch them scream in agony as fire licked at their skin and charred their bones, my priority was getting Larkin.

And she was here. I felt it.

Time seemed to roll together in one continuous loop, and it didn’t help that whatever toxic cocktail they kept injecting me with was done on a schedule.

And the last time they thought I was sedated enough, when they’d been brave enough to come into my cell, I made them wish they hadn’t. I was pretty sure I tore one of their arms off, nearly had his throat ripped out before they shot three more darts into the side of my neck, successfully taking my big ass down.

I emptied my stomach one more time, getting all that poison out of my body. I placed my palms on the cement and pushed myself up, staying on my hands and knees for a minute until the nausea faded.

When I lifted my head, I could see a bottle of water and a sandwich on a paper plate sitting by the cell door.

It was a long while before I was clearheaded enough to stand, but when I was upright, I started pacing the cell. From wall to bars. Wall to bars. Back and forth, back and forth.

I could hear the creature in the cell next to me growling, something hard and heavy being slammed up against the bars.

“Bane, mate, stop with the bloody fucking racket!” a male with a thick accent roared so loudly I gritted my teeth in annoyance. “You do this shite every damn time, and all it earns you is being fucking tranqed.”

“I’m not your mate, Vox, so you’ll do well to keep your fucking mouth shut,” the male in the cell beside me growled in the deepest voice I’d ever heard.

There were so many creatures surrounding me that it was hard sifting through the scents. I smelled a variety of Otherworlders mixed with the stench of the Assembly humans.

I walked up to the bars, as close as I could get to the cell beside me without getting fucking singed from the magic, and inhaled deeply, focusing on his scent.

A demon.

I could smell it easily. Very masculine and aggressive.

The growling noise from the demon started up again, and the other male he called Vox started cursing in what I assumed was his native tongue. I focused on his scent as I closed my eyes and inhaled.

Angelis. Said to be half celestial being, half demon.

The one and only Angelis I’d known had been a cocky asshole. Maybe he was related to this one.

I kept sifting through the scents until I felt the sensation of being watched. I opened my eyes and stared straight ahead. The cell twenty feet in front of me was dark, the light hanging between our two prisons not reaching deep enough inside.

My vision became clear, and I made out twin red eyes glowing from within the shadows.

The creature walked forward and into the light, a massive male who was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. He stopped when he was an inch from the bars. He was a huge bastard, easily seven feet. He was so big he had to tilt his head to the side slightly so his giant fucking horns didn’t scrape the ceiling. Scars littered his chest in crisscross patterns, ones that could only be worn by a warrior.

His horns curved up and back around his head, and his vicious upper fangs went past his bottom lip as he growled low, changing the shape of his mouth for a second.

“Like what you see, wolf?” the creature prompted, his voice distorted, and his eyes glowing even redder.

Interesting.

The ones named Vox and Bane started bitching at each other again, but I stayed focused on the male in front of me.

“What are you?” I found myself asking.

He didn’t respond, just grinned and started laughing—a deep, rumbling sound that had my wolf becoming defensive.

And then the air changed suddenly, thickening. All noise in the cell block stilled. The sound of a lock disengaging filled the corridor, and I turned my head the other way and stared down the cement-lined hallway to see four guards dragging a big, black-haired male forward.

“God, we need to have a better system for them,” one of the guards huffed out.

“Talk to Tore about it if you want to file a complaint,” another guard wheezed, clearly trying to hold the big male up.

I knitted my brows as I felt the back of my neck tighten with recognition.

“How much tranq did they give him?” one of the humans asked.

“Enough,” came the reply.

I moved closer, and then the crystal-clear realization of who the male was solidified in me.

Sebastian. Adryan’s vampire cousin and probably equally as psychotic.

“Vampire! My female,” I roared, my hands on the bars, not giving a shit if the pain was excruciating. “Have ye seen her? Have ye seen my Larkin?” I felt feral as I stared at the vampire.

They were halfway past my cell when, faster than any of them could anticipate, the creature across from me reached through the bars, grabbed the nape of the guard closest to him, and jerked the human backward so forcefully that I heard the back of his skull crack against the bars.

And then total fucking chaos ensued.

I watched as the guards started shouting, one of them talking into his earpiece as he called for backup.

The guard who had been slammed against the cell was still standing upright, but that was only because the creature had a scarred, thickly muscled forearm wrapped around his throat.

The human’s eyes rolled back, his mouth went slack, and then I smelled the scent of his blood.

I looked back at Sebastian.

As if he felt my gaze on him, he turned his head in my direction. His eyes were hooded, glossy and unfocused, but when he slowly smiled and I watched his fangs descend and elongate, I felt my own grin spread across my face, my wolf rising.

Sebastian rose up so swiftly he was a blur. He grabbed one of the humans by the throat, brought him forward, and sank his fangs into the side of his neck. Sebastian drank his fill before ripping his mouth away so violently a chunk of the human’s flesh came clean off.

Then he turned toward the next guard, spitting that chunk out so it hit the human in the chest before it slid down to the ground with a wet, squelching noise.

I felt my adrenaline start to rush through my veins faster with the excitement of battle. I wanted out of this fucking cage, and it was clear all the other creatures around me were feeling the same way.

They were roaring, growling, banging their fists on the bars.

My wolf scented the blood in the air and paced wildly right below the surface of my body, but whatever tranquilizers they gave me weren’t allowing me to shift.

So all I could do was watch the chaos, witness Sebastian destroying the guards in the most efficient, savage way his kind could. But then more guards rushed in, shouting orders and going after Sebastian.

They shot him in succession, so many tranquilizer darts going into his huge body that it made the vampire even more pissed. He stood there for so fucking long, holding his arms out, letting them shoot him in the chest as he grinned.

Yeah, definitely fucking related tae Adryan.

The drugs started taking hold, as his expression grew slack a second before he fell forward and hit the floor. The glowing red eyes of the creature across from me, started to dim as the sedation took over.

“Fuck,” one of the guards said. “Fuck!” he yelled as he looked at the carnage. “Throw the vampire bastard in a cell and make sure he stays out cold.”

The guard who’d spoken glanced around before staring at me. I let my eyes flash blue, let a grin slowly spread across my face as I felt my canines lengthen.

Come here. Come closer.

“Clean this up,” the human snapped and looked away. “Tore is gonna shit himself.”

I took a step back, and another one, until the shadows swallowed me, and I could find a way to get out of here and find my female. And I would, even if it killed me in the end.

Chapter

Seven

Larkin

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, didn’t know where they’d transferred me, but I was still in hell.

Something big had happened, and for a split-second in time, as the facility had been burning, screams and roars filled the air, and smoke had made a thick blanket in every available space, I thought the chance of freedom was in my grasp.

I didn’t remember much after passing out from all the smoke; my only memory of the oppressive heat was that I couldn’t breathe. The smoke had been so thick and strong that I hadn’t been able to see my hand in front of my face and found myself on the floor, trying desperately to get fresh air into my burning lungs.

And when I felt the heavy darkness start to dominate me, I swore I heard my name being called. I swore I heard his voice.

Then I passed out, but that small reprieve didn’t last, as reality came crashing back to me in the form of burning lungs as I took a great inhale of clean oxygen. And as I saw my captors, scented their familiar stench in my nose, I almost wept that I was back in hell, or maybe this was purgatory.

And here I was, days upon days later, in a new cell, yet it was nearly identical to the one before in its hollowness.

I started pacing the length of the cell, not out of anxiousness but to keep my blood pumping, my muscles from deteriorating and becoming weak.

I did this for so long my exhaustion took hold. I was about to lie down just as I heard someone approaching. I stopped but stayed in the center of the cell. A moment later, D and Tore, the leader of this operation, stopped in front of me.

For a moment, they just stood there staring at me, and I held their gazes. Then Tore slowly smiled and took a step forward.

“How are you?”

I didn’t bother responding.

“I apologize for the change of scenery, but as you’re well aware, we had an issue with the last facility and had to leave suddenly.” He looked me up and down. “But we’ve ensured we haven’t disrupted your normalcy or schedule. We’d hate to displace you like that.”

I curled my hands into tight fists at my sides but remained silent.

“A quiet one.” He grinned. “I’ve liked that about you. You know when to keep your mouth shut.” He licked his lips without looking away from me, and before I could anticipate what he’d done, D shot a dart into my neck.

I lifted my hand instantly and pulled it out, but it was too late. I felt the effects of the drugs making their way through me. I weaved on my feet, stumbled to the side, and hit the wall hard enough my ears rang.

“We have a surprise for you, one I think you’ll like.” He cocked his head to the side. “Well, maybe ‘like’ isn’t the best word for what we have planned.”

D stepped forward and unlocked the cell, and I tried to move back, but my vision had gone wavy, my body heavy.

And then he was on me, dragging me out as if I were a dirty rag in his hold.

Chapter

Eight

Odhran

It was the assault of scents that roused me, but still I couldn’t wade through my thoughts, couldn’t grasp my full consciousness.

The fuckers had drugged me again.

My body ached, my limbs feeling as if they weighed too much, were far too heavy for me to move them. My wolf was trying to shake off the discombobulation, but my strength was returning little by little. Yet I wouldn’t fight the ones who held me. I wanted this. I’d needed to get out of my cell so I had the best chance of finding her and killing them.

I felt my body lurch forward as we entered a room. My arms were jerked upward, cold and hard metal wrapping around them. My legs were kicked apart, the same bonds going around my ankles. I felt cool air brush along my battered body, and as much as I tried to open my eyes, they felt sealed shut from whatever drugs they’d been pumping into me.

I could hear the growls coming from me, my wolf trying in vain to gain control. But I was far too weakened in my state to do much more than make hoarse noises. I heard the humans laughing, their voices muffled, garbled. Then I felt pain when someone slammed their fist into my side, next to the center of my chest, finally ending when they punched me in my jaw. My head kicked back, colliding with the stone.

“He’ll be fully awake soon. Let’s get everything situated. They’re all waiting.”

With each passing second, I was coming back online. I lifted my head and shook it to clear my mind and spit out a mouthful of blood, finally peeling my eyes open and taking note of the scene before me.

I was in some kind of room barren of most things except an examination-style table in the center and a metal rolling tray off to the side. The flooring was white tiled with a massive drain in the center.

The room smelled of antiseptic and something else.

Pain. Death.

There was an entire wall made of glass directly across from me, but it was too dark to see what was on the other side. I knew I was being watched, not just because I noticed a security camera mounted in the corner at the top of the ceiling, but because I felt eyes on me that were coming from the other side of that glass partition.

And as I grew stronger with each passing moment, I tested my bonds. But there was little give, the metal digging into the skin of my wrists and ankles, tearing the flesh. These too were mystically enforced in order to keep a Lycan bound.

I bared my teeth and snarled as I pulled as hard as I could, trying to rip the chains out of the walls.

I felt this tightening of my skin, the hairs on my arms standing on end. Something big was coming, happening, the precipice of an epiphany. I strained even more until I froze at the sight of the lights flaring just behind the glass wall. I heard a feral sound leave me at the sight of all the sets of eyes locked on me.

There were sixteen chairs broken up into rows of four, each one slightly more elevated than the row before. They were humans, that much I could tell, and I snarled.

Aged males wearing pressed suits. Women doused in jewelry. Some had wide eyes, others showing excited expressions. And then there were the ones who grinned in malicious eagerness.

Some of the viewers leaned forward in their chairs, their grins widening, and I realized why when I heard the heavy sound of multiple feet coming my way. Thump-thump, thump-thump, their steps were sure and heavy.

The door was pushed open, and I was already snarling as one, then two big fucking males walked in. The first, I recognized instantly. Tore. I snarled at him even more.

I pulled at my cuffs again and growled, letting my wolf rise, allowing them to see how feral I was, how I had nothing else to lose in going after them.

Everything that I was, that meant the most to me, had been taken away, ripped from my heart and soul. And it was all because of them.

The next male who stepped through, I also recognized. I’d heard him called “D.” He grinned as his gaze latched on to me, but it was what he held that had my entire body freezing.

For the first time in far too fucking long, the meaning of my life was in front of me once more.

And then that happiness, that elation, vanished as I took in the state of her. Her slight body was limp, the scent of drugs surrounding her nauseating in the air. Her long black hair was tangled and knotted and hung around her face, so I couldn’t see her features well. But I didn’t have to see her face to know she was mine.

Larkin.

I growled with more aggression as she was laid out on the stainless steel table, as they strapped her legs and arms down, and then finally they pushed her hair out of her face.

Oh gods. I’ll kill them all ten times over.

She had a bruise on her cheek that snaked up to her ear. I felt even more primal that they dared touch my tiny nymph mate, her species so fragile and gentle, kind and naturally sweet. She’d never hurt anyone, never say a word that would harm another.

I looked at Tore, who was speaking with a third male who’d entered, then snapped my focus to D. He watched me with that sadistic smile on his face, and when he lifted his hand and pulled at a chain that hung around his neck, my breath left me viciously.

He wore Larkin’s necklace, the one that I’d worn for decades, the one that had been taken from me when they captured me.

He chuckled low as he brought the anchor to his mouth and ran his lips over it.

“I’m going tae kill ye slowly,” I said in a low, even voice to D. “I’m going tae rip yer heart out and present it tae my mate as a gift.”

D had the intelligence to lose the fucking grin, tuck the necklace back into his shirt, and move a step back.

“Welcome, esteemed cardholders,” Tore said in a raised voice, and the humans watching through the glass perked up.

The soft female moan that came from Larkin had me snapping my head in her direction and straining against my bonds.

Get tae her. Gods, please let me get tae her. Tae hold her. Tae tell her everything is okay now, and I’ll never let anyone take her from me again.

“Ah, my sweet lass,” I wheezed out, my chest too tight, my heart breaking over and over again as I watched her wake up and fight through the clear confusion. “I’m here, darlin’.” I bared my teeth as the one called D stepped forward. “Ye’d do best tae stay away from her.”

He paused and cocked his head. “Don’t think you’re much of a threat, Lycan.” He grinned and reached out, grabbing a lock of her hair and rubbing it between his fingers.

My eyes flashed as I stared at him. “Ye signed yer death warrant before now, but now that ye’re touching my female…” I felt a surge of power move through me. “Now, I’m going tae make sure I kill ye nice and slow. I’m going tae fooking enjoy tearing yer throat out and offering it tae my mate as a second prize.”

There was a round of cheering from the humans on the other side of the glass, the scent of their disgusting eagerness seeping through the cracks and filling the small medical room.

Tore clapped his hands and said in a booming voice, “We have a special attraction for our VIP cardholders. We are so honored to be able to invite you to witness the connection a mated pair have, and when one hurts, the other does too. A mating like no other.”

There was a round of laughter from the men, some of them nudging the others with their shoulders, winking, the grins becoming salacious.

Tore chuckled. “Now, now. It’s not one of those kinds of sessions, although if you’d like to see one of our more adult-catered exhibits, please see one of the attendants on your way out to reserve your seat.”

Larkin opened her eyes—her bright blue eyes. I remembered them all too well, ones I saw every time I closed my own. But that hazy expression changed as she realized where she was, a frantic look covering her face.

She knew where she was. She knew what was about to happen… because it’s happened tae her before.

My female started pulling at her restraints, but despite being an Otherworld species, she was delicate, her strength that of a human’s. My sweet little mate was far too weak and drugged to break free, even if she weren’t clearly drained of energy, hurt, and malnourished.

“Lass.” The word was nothing but a brutal croak from my throat. I wanted to be strong for her, to show her everything would be okay, but I couldn’t break free to get to her. I couldn’t protect her… again.

And when D gripped her hair hard enough she cried out, I roared, the chains rattling against the wall as I pulled on the cuffs, yanking until my skin broke open and rivulets of blood poured down my forearms.

“No more. No more, please,” she murmured hoarsely over and over again, and I didn’t think my heart could break any more.

What had they done to her?

“Awe, my sweet Larkin. My sweet girl.”

She turned her head in my direction then, her blue eyes so big and wide with fear, her body tight as she anticipated pain.

She’s used tae this. Aw, gods, she’s used tae this.

Her vision cleared, her eyes flaring for another reason as we stared at each other. Recognition.

“Od… Odhran? Is that really you?” She was crying now, big tears streaming down her face, her pale skin streaked with dirt.

It was then I truly took in the state of her, how the gown she wore was tattered and ripped, the skin I could see dirty, her feet bare, bruises covering her legs and arms.

They’d hurt her. Repeatedly. All these years.

I was a growling, feral mess, never taking my gaze off her, my chest feeling like someone had ripped it open and torn out my heart.

“I’m here. I’m here, lass, and I’ll take ye away. I’ll protect ye this time.”

The deep laughter in the room had me slowly looking at each man, memorizing their faces, knowing I’d kill every one of them.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Tore announced, “enjoy the show.”

Chapter

Nine

Larkin

Days later

I knew it was late, although I didn’t know what time it was, hadn’t seen the sun, the moon, or the open skies in so long.

But my body had become accustomed to the long stretches when they left me alone. That was when I slept. But tonight, I was awake, the same blanket pulled up to my chin while I stared at the cement above me as I thought about Odhran, remembered his roars and screams while they tortured me right in front of him.

I knew from listening to my parents that although I’d been the one physically harmed, Odhran felt it too, maybe even worse. He wanted to get to me so badly that I smelled his blood coat the air as he strained against his bonds, making his wrists raw.

And they all laughed and cheered and shouted for more.

I passed out at some point during it, a small miracle, but another part wanted to stay awake so I could see him, look into his eyes that I’d only been able to dream about for far too long. Gods, how I knew he was suffering right now, worried about me and blaming himself. I’d seen that truth written on his face, a misery that would forever be etched into my brain.

I closed my eyes, squeezed them so tightly I gave myself a headache. After rubbing the pain away, I exhaled and knew with a sickening feeling in my gut that they’d do this over and over again, torture me in front of my mate, knowing it would destroy him.

My thoughts were disrupted by the sound of a lock disengaging.

The footsteps that came down the hallway were softer than normal, as if someone was trying to be quiet, and I looked past the bars, seeing a large shadow coming closer. I tightened my hold on the blanket, knowing that whoever it was wouldn’t be here for anything good.

And then he came into view.

D.

I held my breath as he stopped in front of my cell. I knew the shadows within my prison were dark enough he couldn’t see me clearly, not with his weak human vision. But I could see him clear as day, saw the way his gaze narrowed on me, heard the way his breathing picked up, how his pulse quickened. And in turn, mine did the same, as this sick horror settled inside me.

“I know you’re awake,” he said in a soft voice, as if he didn’t want anyone to hear. “Don’t worry; the cameras have been diverted and rerouted for the time being.”

I didn’t answer, didn’t even know what he meant by that.

He curled his hands around the bars and leaned in, his nostrils flaring, his jaw tight. “I’m not supposed to be here, but…” He didn’t finish that sentence, but I saw the way his fingers tightened around the metal, his knuckles white. “I don’t know.” His brows pulled down low. “There’s something about you…”

It was very clear in his tone and by his expression that whatever it was that he saw in me, he didn’t much care for it.

He looked to his right, where the door that led out of the cell block was. He turned back to me just as he reached for his key card. I kept the blanket wrapped around me as he unlocked the cell. I could see the hazy magic in front of it, almost as if it was a mirage, an apparition, before it dissipated.

In that moment I wished humans were affected by it, that they felt pain by touching those bars like the Otherworld did.

And then it faded as the door was opened. For a second, he just stood there, staring at me. It felt like my heart was beating in the center of my throat.

He stepped farther inside, and I gripped the blanket as if it would protect me.

I knew this moment was very fragile, that he, like all the rest of these heathens who hurt the Otherworlders, was unhinged. I didn’t want to give him any reason to attack, not when it was very clear he came here for one reason.

Me.

“I’m disgusted with myself for wanting anything to do with you.” His voice was still so low as he took another step closer, and I rose to my feet to instinctively move to the side and farther away from him. We did this dance of footsteps back and forth until the door was to my right and he was directly in front of me.

He reached out a hand and snagged a piece of my hair. I tensed as I watched him bring it up, his brows pulled low as he rubbed it between his fingers, watching the action.

His lips were pinched, his nostrils flared, and then he lifted his gaze to mine. I could see the hatred he had for me on his face, reflected in his eyes. He was at war with himself and his clear, depraved desire for me.

“I’m not supposed to be down here,” he repeated, almost to himself, as he kept rubbing the key card between his fingers while he stared into my eyes. “I had to pull a lot of strings, move things around so nobody knows, so the cameras don’t see real-time movement while I’m here.” He dropped his voice even lower and said, “So it’s just you and me for a little bit.”

My throat tightened, and I exhaled roughly, trying to control my breathing. I knew showing a man like this any kind of fear would only instigate the situation, probably turn him on even more.

“I’m not the only one, you know. There are others who are curious about what it would be like…”

I knew exactly what he was talking about, and it turned my blood cold.

Play along, I thought. Make him think you won’t fight. Of course it went against everything I believed, every grain in my body revolting.

I didn’t want him to touch me, not even a lock of my hair. To have anyone touch me felt abhorrent, as if my skin was being pulled from my bones. And when he placed his other hand on my shoulder, I couldn’t hide the shiver that moved through me.

“We’re going to keep this our secret, aren’t we.” It wasn’t phrased as a question.

Because he and I both knew he’d do whatever he wanted. Yet him mentioning that made me think that if he were caught here with me, things would be very bad for him.

I still said nothing, trying to keep my breathing even, but I knew I was failing. I could scent his dark intent, could smell his lust for me.

But I would not allow him to violate me in that way. Even if fighting back right now killed me.

I’d fight with every ounce of strength I possessed.

And so I lifted my hand, and saw his body visibly tense as his gaze watched the movement. I froze for just a millisecond before continuing, sliding my hand through his dark-blond hair, my nails scratching his scalp until a low groan left him.

I didn’t show any outward emotion that this small touch disgusted me, nauseated me to the point where I felt like I would gag.

I watched as his lips parted, and his breathing started coming faster and stronger. I tightened my fingers in his hair a little bit more, looked up at him through the fall of my lashes, and forced myself to smile.

And then, with his guard down and the scent of his twisted lust hanging in the air, I pushed his head as hard as I could against the bars of the cell.

Time stood still, as the sound of his skull cracking against the metal was deafening, sickening. His eyes widened, his teeth clashed together, and I worried I’d made a horrible mistake, that my strength was nothing compared to his, so I’d made things even worse.

Although all of this happened within a matter of seconds, it felt like time slowed as our gazes stayed locked.

But then I smelled the scent of blood, watched his eyes roll back in his head, his mouth going slack, and then he sank to the floor, his knees hitting the cement before his upper body went parallel with it.

I wasn’t foolish enough to stand there and marvel at the fact that I’d taken him down. Because I had no idea how long it would last.

Acting faster than I thought was humanly or inhumanly possible, I was with it enough to grab his key card and dart out of the cell. I was breathing frantically, no longer able to hold on to my control, as I quickly made my way down the corridor until I got to the door.

I had watched them enter and exit enough times that I knew the process of swiping the heavy piece of plastic across the sensor and putting in the three-digit code that would disengage the lock.

The lock clicked, and I pulled the door open, telling myself to focus and calm down so I could perceive any threats.

I wasn’t so inherently stupid that I thought this haphazard “plan” of mine would actually work. But not trying wasn’t an option.

So I took a left, knowing it wouldn’t matter if I’d gone in the opposite direction. My chances of finding an exit were the same, and I was going to be in a maze either way.

I kept one hand on the cinder-block wall as I walked fast, my bare feet hardly making any sounds on the hard, frigid floor. I passed doors upon doors, thick metal, which I knew led to other cell blocks.

I could hear my panting, and no matter what I did to try and control my breathing, I was running on pure adrenaline right now. Beads of perspiration slid down my temples and along the side of my face; my heart was racing, and my body felt flushed.

When I rounded another corner, I was greeted with a long corridor with cells lining either side. I stood there for a second, holding my breath, not seeing anyone but knowing I wasn’t alone. I smelled the Otherworlders filling those cells.

I looked to my left, back where I came from. I could try to go another way, take different turns and not risk going this way, which would probably cause the prisoners to get rowdy and vicious, which would draw attention. But as it was, I just wanted to keep moving.

So when I faced forward once more, I felt this tightening sensation move over my skin.

Squeezing my fingers around the key card, I licked my lips and took the first step, then another. And then I snapped into focus and pushed away my apprehension, keeping to the center of the corridor and away from the cells, my gaze on the ground so I didn’t make eye contact with any of them.

I heard shuffling from within the cells and kept reminding myself that D told me he rerouted security footage, made sure the guards’ schedules were tweaked. He’d gone through a lot of trouble to go into my cell tonight, to no doubt do heinous acts and not get caught.

I could sense the other male creatures within the cells, could scent their masculinity, the sweat clinging to their forms, their overpowering anger and aggression that was suffocating.

“I smell a female. Soft, gentle… breakable.”

The voice that came from my left was guttural, inhuman, and mysterious in sound. I didn’t stop to look, just kept moving forward as fast as my feet could take me.

Just as I rounded the corner, about to exhale in relief that I was free, I froze, watching as two human guards came right toward me, dragging a massive male between them.

Their heads were bent low as they talked softly to each other, not realizing I stood at the end. And then one of them lifted his head, and our gazes clashed.

“The fuck?”

I sucked in a sharp breath and looked between the humans. They were stopped now, both of them still holding on to the male. I realized the Otherworld creature—a vampire, given his scent—had manacles around his wrists, ones that had a wavy apparition of magic swirling around the metal. The scent of his flesh burning from the power of it stung my nose.

The vampire slowly lifted his head and locked his gaze on mine. The glossy look in his eyes told me he was drugged, his big body weakened by the magic and sedatives the Assembly was so fond of using on us.

I snapped my focus back to the humans. It was very clear the guards were stunned speechless, frozen as we all stared at each other. No one moved, no one spoke, and it felt like an eternity, although only moments passed.

I took a step back on instinct, but the wall stopped me from retreating any farther. One of the humans cursed again, and that was when the entire situation played out like a horror movie or a nightmare… for everyone but the Otherworld male.

The vampire turned savage, and the only time I’d ever seen this kind of brutality was when Odhran fought the humans before they’d taken me all those years ago.

I could hear the creatures just down the hall roaring and screaming, sensing the fight, and more than likely wanting to take part in it.

And the entire time, all I could do was stand there, my back pressed to the wall, my eyes wide, and my heart racing. I prayed the flight-or-fight instinct would take over, because I refused to make this easy for anyone.

I didn’t know how much time passed as I was frozen in place, watching the vampire decimate both humans. There were a few body parts lying scattered, blood sprayed across the ground and walls, but despite the carnage, the male had his sights on me.

I made a frightened noise in the back of my throat and flattened myself against the wall as much as I could.

He bent down, ripped the key card off one of the humans, and ran it over the manacles. The mirage surrounding it dissipated, and the lock opened a second before falling unceremoniously to the ground. He hissed through gritted teeth and sharpened fangs. His wrists were raw, blistered, and charred from the cuffs.

And then he was stalking forward, stopping when he was a foot from me.

He didn’t say anything, but his gaze spoke volumes.

“Come, female.” His voice was guttural, harsh. It was reminiscent of someone who didn’t use it very often.

I didn’t move, confusion filling me.

“Female,” he growled. “If you want to get out of here with your mate, let’s go.”

I was so stunned by his words that I just blinked, my mouth opening and closing on its own, but no words spilled forth. “My mate?” He knew where Odhran was? I should’ve been hesitant, feeling this swell of hope fill my chest at the prospect of seeing him.

He exhaled in annoyance. “I overheard the guards talking about you, saying your name and your mate’s as I was taken out of one of their torture rooms.” There was a harsh growl that left him, his eyes flashing red. “If you want to get to him, I know where he’s at. I don’t know where the guards are, and I don’t know how long we have before they swarm in. We have to go now.”

And then he turned and started walking back down the corridor, leaving the grisly scene behind.

I could’ve told him what D said about the cameras and the guards’ rotation being altered. But my words were lodged in my throat. I wanted to ask him how he got free so easily, and if he’d been able to do that the entire time, why he’d allowed them to drag him to begin with, to capture him.

But none of that mattered.

I found myself moving, following him before I knew it was happening.

And I didn’t even focus on the cells on either side of me, which were suddenly extremely quiet, this tension surrounding the male in front of me.

These creatures are terrified of him and sense him for the dangerous and deadly predator that he is.

I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time I followed him. He seemed like he knew his way around, as if he’d been watching, memorizing everything surrounding him.

I should’ve felt nothing but trepidation and fear in following him to the unknown. But I’d risk anything, take any chance, just to see Odhran again.

“Who are you?” I whispered so softly I didn’t even know if I said it out loud, didn’t know if he heard me. And although he glanced over his shoulder, silently confirming he heard me, he didn’t respond otherwise.

We’d only been walking a minute or so before he held his hand out, palm toward me, a silent demand to still. And then a second later, he pressed his forearm to my chest and shoved me back against the wall so suddenly the force had the air rushing out of my lungs.

Revulsion filled me at his touch, and he instantly took his arm away. I wondered if he knew the uncomfortable sensation his touch gave me. He looked down at me and lifted his hand to place his finger to his lips, the universal sign for me to be quiet. A moment later, the sound of low voices came through.

I dug my nails into the cinder block behind me, and the entire time, the vampire stared at me, his composure calm and easy, his eyes flashing red intermittently as if he was ready to kill at the drop of a hat.

We were both still, with me holding my breath, as two human males walked by us, their backs toward us, their conversation low. Humans had such weak senses that they didn’t even know a killer stood a mere meter from them.

I glanced at the vampire again and could see him staring at the humans. I could sense how much he wanted to go to them, to break their necks and drain their bodies of blood. But he was controlled enough to know drawing attention wasn’t in our best interest.

When the humans were gone and we could no longer hear their voices, he gestured for me to follow him again. We went in the opposite direction, taking a left, then a right, and finally the vampire stopped when we arrived at a large metal door, the small, wired window in the center showing a slice of the interior.

From our vantage point, I could see cells on either side of the room and a human stationed at the end of each point of the walkway. I swallowed roughly, because as the vampire glanced at me and grinned, I knew exactly how this would go.

He used the key card to open the door, and faster than I could anticipate, he was inside, snapping the neck of the guard closest to him first, then ripping the throat out of the other. The noise within the cell block grew tenfold as the creatures caged inside went berserk at the violence and bloodshed.

“In here,” called the vampire, and I glanced around the corner before hesitantly stepping inside.

I didn’t pay any attention to the corpses on the ground or the blood splattered across the cement. I just stood there for a second, watching as the vampire went from cell to cell, using the key card to unlock each one.

The doors slid open, and a startled sound left me as I watched huge Otherworld males step free.

“Over here, female.” The vampire walked down the length of the cell block and stopped at the last prison. He used the key card, and a second later, the door slid open.

I held my breath when Odhran stepped out. He had his head tilted to the side as he stared at the vampire, and when the other male tipped his chin in my direction, Odhran slowly turned his head and looked at me.

For a frozen moment, we just stared at each other. Although I’d seen him in the room just days before, heard his cries and roars, his pleas and begging for them to stop hurting me, right now felt different. It felt real. It gave me hope.

He’d changed over the years, aged. There was now this brutal edge to him. He had dark circles under his eyes, his jaw severely square and cut, his cheeks hollowed. There was a jagged scar running down one side of his face that made him appear even more savage.

But gods, he was the most incredible male I’d ever seen.

And then I was running toward him, not caring that we weren’t really free, that at any second we could be captured or killed, or that so many dangerous Otherworld creatures were being released by the vampire and would come after us.

I saw the most amazing expression transform Odhran’s face as I launched myself into his arms. He pulled me in close and hauled me off the ground. I wrapped my legs around his waist, my arms around his broad shoulders, and buried my face in the crook of his neck as I wept.

“Gods… is this real?” He started murmuring in Gaelic, his voice deep and harsh, his whole body trembling. He tightened his arms on me, sliding a hand up the center of my back and tangling his fingers in my hair to keep my face against him. “Are ye really here with me, lass?”

“I don’t know if it’s real,” I said in between my tears. “But I don’t want to wake up if it’s a dream.” He was the one to bury his face at the side of my neck now, and I heard him inhale deeply, a low rumble leaving him.

It felt like we’d been standing here for so long, nothing else around us, nothing else mattering. I imagined it was just Odhran and me back in that field, with the warm sun on us and danger far, far away. But I knew only a second had to have passed, this moment in time a blip in our very dangerous reality.

“I hate to break up the happy reunion, but you two need to get the fuck out of here before the shit hits the fan.”

I lifted my head and looked over at the vampire, seeing him staring at Odhran. I glanced around and could see so many different species of the Otherworld pacing, destroying things, and heading down different corridors as they roared out.

“Go, take your female. Get far away from here.”

“Sebastian, come with us.” Odhran’s voice was firm and strong. My anchor.

The vampire named Sebastian shook his head. “I’m burning this motherfucker to the ground, bathing in its ashes, and going to clean my teeth with the bones of the one named Tore.” The vampire grinned and tipped his head toward the hall. “Go, follow the carnage and bodies. They’ll lead you outside.”

I didn’t know what was going on or how any of this was possible, but I wasn’t going to question any of it. We didn’t have time for that, and I didn’t care about the details. Nothing short of death was going to stop me.

Odhran stared at Sebastian for a suspended second before giving a sharp nod, setting me down on my feet, and curling his hand tightly around mine. “Good luck. Destroy them all,” was all Odhran said before he tightened his hand around mine, and we ran.

He was fast and efficient, keeping me close yet away from all the other creatures and the anarchy. Panels were getting torn down, claws digging effortlessly into cinder block, lights and wiring being ripped and exposed.

Without full sedation and the magic keeping them in line, the creatures were feral, brutal, and finally exacting their revenge.

Lights hung broken from the ceilings, electrical wires were ripped from every available space, sparks flying from the exposed cords. I could feel the heat, thick smoke from a fire burning somewhere close sucking up the available oxygen.

The Otherworlders were going to take down this facility, kill everyone in it, and I had a feeling Sebastian was going to ensure this hurt the Assembly so irrevocably that the entire organization felt it to its blueprint.

We could hear shouting, scented humans, and a second later, a swarm of guards came forward, guns trained. Odhran pushed me behind him and roared, trying to let his Lycan come forward.

I could still scent the aroma of chemicals surrounding him and knew they’d used sedation on him recently enough that he wasn’t able to fully shift. But he didn’t need his beast to take them out. He was strong enough, even slightly weakened, to destroy every last one of them.

He went after any human that got close, dispatched their weapons as if they were toys. The gore and destruction, the sheer power coming from Odhran, was breath-stealing and awe-inspiring.

And when he killed everyone who stood in our way, he took my hand again, and we moved forward.

I couldn’t help but think about the others trapped in cells, trapped in this building that was being destroyed. And even though I’d seen Sebastian release many of them from their prisons, I also knew there were so many more. “What about the others, the others trapped in the cells?”

Odhran shook his head. “No time, lass. I only care about getting ye out and tae safety.”

In my mind, I knew he was right, that we didn’t have time to help anyone else, that going back and freeing the Otherworld creatures Sebastian may not have been able to help would surely be our downfall. But gods, did my heart break, and guilt swarmed me.

So we ran, hard and fast, Odhran’s hand so firm and warm in mine. It was a vise, a tether. Always an anchor.

We rounded a corner, and Odhran threw his arm out, stopping me from going any closer. I looked around his body and could see two very familiar faces amongst the slaughtering that was taking place.

Vox and Bane. The Angelis and the demon, who, despite having been at each other’s throats during the years of our captivity, were now fighting as one powerhouse unit.

I’d never seen anything so brutal as a demon ripping heads clean off of bodies and tossing them away, or Vox, the Angelis enraged with his completely pitch-black eyes, using his talon-tipped, onyx-colored wings to eviscerate any guard who came at him.

Blood was spraying like a geyser, covering the walls, the ceiling and floors, but most of all coating the two Otherworld males who were grinning from ear to ear as they wreaked havoc.

“Is that all you got, demon?” Vox roared, then tipped his head back and laughed, his fangs flashing and blood dripping off his face and onto his chest.

Bane growled, his body growing bigger and thicker with muscle right before my eyes, as he snarled at Vox, “You are such a cocksucker. If I wasn’t in the middle of killing these motherfuckers, I’d kick your ass once and for all.” And then Bane gave him the middle finger.

A guard was foolish enough to come from behind and try to tranq Bane, but I could see his smile widen, because he knew the human was there. His claws grew exponentially from his fingers, black and razor-tipped. I knew demons could emit poison from them and watched as he swiped out and dragged them across the human’s face, tearing away skin and bone and plucking out his eyeballs as if they were nothing but grapes in a bowl.

Vox and Bane turned and looked at us, their eyes that dangerous black that came from their demon sides. Then they both grinned. Odhran let out a low growl of warning, and Bane chuckled.

“Relax, wolf. We have no need to go after you when we have a houseful of motherfuckers we plan on killing to sate our bloodlust.” Bane looked at us, and I saw this strange expression flicker across his face. His fangs were so long and thick he couldn’t close his mouth fully, but even still, his expression was almost… soft. “Take your mate, wolf. Take her far from this hellhole.”

“And make sure to kill a few bastards on the way out,” Vox shouted, then started laughing.

Odhran gripped my hand and left without another word.

We made another couple of turns and then… oh gods, I could see moonlight, could practically smell the fresh air already washing around me.

I stumbled, and Odhran was about to lift me up, but I shook my head. “No. No, please.”

Although my feet hurt something fierce, I refused to let him carry me. I needed to do this, to walk out of here on my own. I’d been dreaming of this moment for far too long.

“Almost there, lass.” He squeezed his hand around mine, his voice gruff, his breathing harsh.

I could smell the smoke from the fire following us, in front of us. I could hear the rumble of the structure starting to cave in on itself. The roars and shouts of humans and Otherworlders filled my ears.

But neither one of us looked back.

And then we broke free from the large bay door, the walls tinged with smoke damage, the fire licking at the frame.

We didn’t stop when my bare feet hit the gravel, and although it hurt, the soles of my feet already battered, I started crying from pure happiness.

“Lass—”

“I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” I kept saying those words over and over again as tears streamed down my face. “I’m crying ’cause I’m happy.” I said the words quickly, because I knew he needed to be reassured, that he’d be worried something was wrong with me, something more than the situation we were dealing with.

We kept running, and when I turned and looked at him, I gave him a smile, knowing we’d made it, actually escaped. I glanced at the entrance of the facility at the same time I heard a shot ring out, as if thunder boomed loud enough my ears rang.

I saw a horror-filled expression morph Odhran’s face as he stared down at me. I fell into his arms, the pain finally pushing through the numbness, my happiness. I looked down at my side and choked out a sound when I saw the bullet wound that had torn through my body, blood starting to seep and spread out along my white shift.

“Oh… Odhran,” I whispered and let him hold my weight. “We were so close to that happily ever after.”

I saw his mouth open, knew he was roaring, but I didn’t hear anything but stillness. Silence.

His wolf pushed to the surface, irises flashing blue just as my eyes fluttered closed.

Chapter

Ten

Odhran

I couldn’t have stopped myself if I wanted to.

I wanted his blood, needed it covering my hands.

My wolf demanded vengeance.

I didn’t have time to make this slow, but I would make it hurt.

He’d hurt the only pure thing in my life, and for that he’d pay with his life. And so I was before him a second later, curling my hand around his throat before he could blink, and lifting him off the ground.

He struggled… gods did he struggle, and it made the predator in me rise. He clawed at my hand and gasped for breath.

There’d be no mercy. I was his god, and his life would end by my hands.

I let my wolf rise swiftly, felt my jaw start to pop and realign enough that it morphed into my beast, and then I was ripping off Larkin’s necklace and curling my fingers around the delicate piece of jewelry. I grinned and went for his trachea with such brutal force his blood sprayed out like a geyser.

Hot, vicious blood covered my face and chest and gave my wolf a semblance of the death it craved. It would never be enough, but Larkin needed help.

Only seconds had passed but my bloodthirst was sated temporarily.

I let his carcass drop to the ground, went back to my mate to hold her in my arms, and ran as fast as I could.

Chapter

Eleven

Larkin

I felt like I was in a fever dream, in and out of reality. I could see flashes of light, hear bursts of sound, and feel something warm and wet move across my brow.

I tried to inhale deeply, take in the scents around me that would help me decipher what was going on and where I was. And for a second, panic swelled in me, because things were too conflicted all around me.

But then… then I smelled a scent that instantly calmed me. Odhran.

I wanted to call out to him, but my tongue felt too thick, my throat too tight. Trying to form words seemed too difficult.

I could smell antiseptic, a fire burning nearby, and something else, something that tingled my senses and tried to pull on my memories. I could sense anguish in the air, a heavy cloak of worry. From my mate. I couldn’t make out any words, but I could hear him speaking, the deep, low sound of his voice a comfort I found in this painful, confusing time.

I wanted to say his name. I wanted to ask him what was wrong. I wanted to ask him if everything worked out… why I hurt so much.

I heard more of his low rumble of words, his deep, soothing voice speaking in his native tongue. And although I hadn’t spent more than a moment in time with him so long ago, I’d be able to recognize his voice anywhere.

I couldn’t understand him, his Gaelic words soft, the inflection gentle, as if he was telling me everything would be okay.

“Odhran,” I finally said, forcing that one word past my too-dry lips and raw throat. A second later, I felt something press against my lips, then cool liquid slid into my mouth and down my throat.

“Easy, lass,” he crooned when I swallowed too much and coughed. I felt the heavy weight of his hand rest against my cheek. I opened my mouth to speak, but he hummed low. “Just rest. Just heal. I will no’ let anything hurt ye.”

I took another sip of water, coughed again, water slipping out the corner of my mouth. He was there instantly, drying it up. I wanted to open my eyes fully, to see him, but they felt so heavy. Too heavy. My entire body did, as if a lead blanket covered me. I would have been panicking if I wasn’t too weak and tired.

He started speaking in Gaelic again, and it was those words, that deep rumble from my mate, that had me drifting back to sleep.

When I woke up again, I had the strange sense that a long time had passed. I remembered bits and pieces, things that felt like a dream, not quite reality. But maybe they were. I opened my eyes, and it took long moments for my vision to adjust and clear.

I stared up at a ceiling, the rustic construction of it showing whitewashed beams that ran parallel to the floor. The coloring of the beams reminded me of the driftwood I used to collect at the beach for my father.

I didn’t move right away, just took note of my surroundings, of my body.

I licked my dry lips, swallowed against my parched throat, and felt as if my side was on fire, as if somebody had taken a knife and sliced me open.

I shifted on the bed slightly and instantly hissed out as the searing pain encompassed me. I froze and closed my eyes, just breathing through it. I’d dealt with pain plenty of times. I could handle this.

I was in a bed, one that was soft. The blankets smelled faintly of lavender, but it was the artificial kind. I sifted through the rest of the scents and picked up the one that had me squeezing my eyes shut with a pang of homesickness.

Saudade.

I smelled salt water.

A lock of my hair hung over my shoulder, and I turned my head toward it and inhaled deeply. The strands smelled like the ocean. Gods, it had been so long since I smelled the sea.

When I opened my eyes, I realized I was smiling. And crying. I looked around the room as much as I could without moving my body and feeling that pain again.

The room was darkened by the night, a swatch of moonlight peeking out from between the partially closed curtains. There was a dresser to one side and a door right beside that. Across from that was another door.

Memories of what happened—escaping the facility, Odhran and I running, and then the point when we broke free, when I glanced at the entrance only to see D standing there with a gun pointed right at me. It all played through my mind like a reel.

There had been pain. And then there was nothing.

One of the doors opened, and I looked over to watch Odhran coming in with a glass of water in his hand. He froze when he saw me, his nostrils flaring and his free hand going to his chest. Right over his heart.

“Don’t move, darlin’.”

My pulse picked up at the sound of his voice so clear, his Scottish accent thickly laced through the words.

He came over to me and set the glass of water on the little table beside the bed. “Ye’re wounded verra badly, Larkin.” His big body was shrouded in shadows, but the scent of the sea mixed with his wild aroma hung around him. It was the most glorious fragrance I’d ever taken into my body.

He gingerly sat on the edge of the bed, the mattress creaking softly from his substantial weight. And when he took my hand in his, I felt my throat tighten for reasons other than thirst.

“Is this real?” I asked. “I’m not dreaming?” I blinked back my tears, because I was afraid this was all a fantasy, one of the many dreams I had when I’d first been captured.

I remembered waking up, gasping out, clutching at the air, crying out for Odhran, my family… for freedom.

Odhran lifted a hand and gently smoothed his fingers over my forehead, pushing the locks away along the side of my face. “Aye, sweetheart. It’s real, and ye’re safe.”

I found myself leaning into his touch, and although the room was dark, my vision still hazy from the pain, I could see the way his lips curled as he smiled.

“How much do ye remember?”

I gave myself a few seconds to focus on his question before answering. “I remember everything up until I was shot.” My heart started racing as I thought about D. As if Odhran knew where my thoughts were headed, a deep rumbling noise came from the center of his chest, and he shook his head slowly.

“No worries. That bastard has been handled and is never going tae hurt ye again.” He said that last part on a growl, his eyes briefly flashing blue before he garnered his control. “I wanted tae drag out his death, make it slow, painful.” He glanced off as if thinking of all the things he wanted to do. “But ye were injured. I had tae get ye out of there and tae safety.”

I licked my lips. It didn’t matter how much or how little D suffered. He was dead, and that was all I cared about.

“What about the facility?” My voice was rough from days of not using it, my throat feeling raw. My words caught on the last part as memories of my time within the clutches of the Assembly played through my mind. Gods, am I really free? Truly? “What about the Assem—” I couldn’t even finish saying the name out loud.

“Shhh.” Odhran kept trailing his fingers along my forehead and temple. “Everything is fine.”

It took me a second to respond, waiting until I made sure the horrors of the past didn’t make my voice shake. “What about Sebastian? He said he would handle it, ruin them. Did he succeed? Did he make it out okay?”

Odhran smiled and leaned in to press his lips to my forehead. I heard him inhale deeply before he pulled back.

“Sebastian and the rest of the Otherworlders he freed destroyed the facility. And last I heard—every human in it.”

I felt something burn in my chest. It wasn’t fear, wasn’t anxiety. It was something close to hope, a painful pleasure. Although I knew it was foolish to think anything could end that evil entity. I knew, despite this one facility being taken down, it wasn’t going to stop the whole organization. I was sure they had places planted all over the world.

“They’ll never stop being a reality, at least not for the foreseeable future. They’ve been around far too long and have deep roots,” Odhran finally said. “But I heard from my king, who spoke with Adryan, the leader of the American Vampire Clan, that convoys have already started moving out all across the world from both the vampires and the Lycans, as well as allies of many Otherworld factions. It’s the age in which the Otherworld hunts down the Assembly.”

“But Sebastian—he’s okay?” I repeated. He saved my life, and the worry that he didn’t make it out after risking everything for me and others made me anxious to know he was fine.

Odhran was silent for a long while, too long, and I felt dread in my belly.

“He didn’t make it out.” I didn’t phrase it like a question.

“I donna know, lass. After we escaped and I was able tae get in contact with Banner, my king, I found out no one has heard from the vampire, no’ even Adryan, his leader and cousin. We donna know if he’s alive or dead.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, didn’t know how to respond.

“But,” Odhran said, and I held my breath, “I donna think Sebastian is dead. The fooker…” He cleared his throat. “Sorry for the crass language, sweetheart.”

A burst of laughter left me. After everything we’d been through, swear words were the least offensive thing.

“The vampire is resilient, unbelievably strong, and lacks a moral compass or emotions. He’ll probably outlive all of us.”

I felt a wave of relief fill me and nodded.

For long seconds, we just sat there in silence, and then Odhran groaned. “Ah, my girl. I’ll never believe ye’re really here with me, that I finally have ye back after all this time.” He leaned down and kissed me on the forehead once more, one hand cupping my cheek, the sound of him inhaling my scent filling my head. “I know what will make ye feel better.”

He was up and heading toward the window before I could ask him what was going on. And once he slid it open and I felt the breeze move into the room, surrounding me, a smile formed on my lips.

I smelled the salt in the air and heard the waves rushing against the shore. We were close to the ocean. Very close.

I focused on Odhran. “How long ago was it…?” My throat seized as I tried to get the words through. But I didn’t need to emphasize what I meant. He knew. Just like he seemed to know all my thoughts, not because I was too expressive, but because we were undeniably linked.

He was back to the bed and sitting beside me a moment later. I felt his hand engulf mine, and for long moments, we sat there, the scent of ocean air and the sound of the waves rushing through the window filling the room.

“After ye were shot and I took out the threat, I panicked. I dinna know where tae take ye, because I dinna know where we were.” He scrubbed his free hand over his face.

I realized he had shaved since I’d been unconscious. Gone was the thick beard, and in its place was scruff that made him even more attractive to me.

“Where are we?”

“Ireland.” He smoothed a hand over my head, and I winced, even the strands painful. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.” The low rumble of his voice and the worry laced within it had me instantly feeling guilty for showing any kind of pain in front of him. I knew it had to hurt him, being my mate.

“I’m okay. You’d think after all the wounds I’ve gotten I’d be used to…” My words trailed off when I saw the way his jaw clenched, watched his eyes glow blue, and heard the deadly growl that left him. “I’m okay,” I reiterated and gave him a smile I hoped was convincing. “The facility was in Ireland?” I changed the subject.

He closed his eyes and breathed out through his nose. After long seconds, he finally looked at me again, seeming to be more in control. “Aye. I could no’ travel with ye injured, but we are far enough away that we’re safe. Verra far, darlin’. After, I assessed yer wound and thanked the gods the bullet passed cleanly through. But still, I had no medical supplies and no one tae ask for help.” He stared at the open window. “But we were close tae the ocean. I could smell it, so I did the only thing I could think of.” He faced me once more. “I took ye tae the water and prayed it would help until I could figure out the next step.”

We both sat in silence for long moments, but it wasn’t tense or forced; it was a kind of quiet where someone could think, could reflect on everything. It was very clear by the tenseness of Odhran’s body he was thinking about things we both probably preferred he didn’t.

“I stayed in small inns for only a day at a time before moving on, keeping close tae the coast so I could get ye in the water tae heal.” He scrubbed a hand over his dark-blond hair, messing up the short strands and making him seem almost boyish in appearance. “Once I got in contact with Banner and could access my accounts and funds, acquired supplies tae take care of ye, I found this cottage, and we’ve been holed up here for days, allowing ye time tae rest and get better.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, and there was this hardness to his expression that startled me.

“Ye shouldn’t thank me. I failed—” He cleared his throat. “I failed ye. I’ll never forgive myself. I’ll never forgive myself for letting them take ye, for all the horrible things they did tae ye.” He exhaled, and I shook my head. “I can never forgive myself, but I can spend the rest of my life atoning, and can show ye that I am a male of worth for my mate.”

I didn’t realize I was crying until I felt fat tears sliding down my cheeks. He brushed them away with the pad of his thumb and then brought it to his mouth to lick my sorrow.

“It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault but theirs.” Of course, I knew my words fell on deaf ears. He’d been beating himself up this entire time. Nothing I said or did would convince him otherwise. So I would just need to show him that I wasn’t broken and would be able to have a happy life with him, with myself.

I glanced down at my side, seeing the brand I’d gotten while with the Assembly, where this new pain had settled most intensely. I used my free hand to lift the shirt I wore, one that I just realized smelled of Odhran and swallowed me whole because it was his.

When my side was revealed, I spied the old mark that I remembered getting vividly. I gingerly tried to pull off the bandage.

“Here, let me.” His voice was gruff, and I glanced at him to see he stared at the crescent and starburst insignia of the Assembly burned into my flesh. His eyes flashed blue, his jaw was locked tight, and he flared his nostrils as he breathed harshly.

He closed his eyes a second, and when he opened them again, I could see he was more in control. His touch soft as he pulled off the tape and gauze to reveal the bullet wound.

I stared at the circular healing wound, and a little laugh welled out of me.

“Lass?” There was clear confusion and concern in his voice.

“For something that hurts so much, I can’t believe how small it is.” When I was met with silence, I looked at Odhran. He had a confused expression on his face before finally his lips curved into a smile.

“My sweet, soft-hearted girl can find humor in darkness.” His voice was deep and tight, but his smile was still in place.

If I died right now, with the ocean air filling the room, the sound of the waves lulling me into a sense of well-being, and the feel of my mate so close, his touch so solidifying and right, I would die contently.

He adjusted the bandage, pulled my shirt back down, and covered me with the blanket. It had been so long since I had the healing properties of natural bodies of water, and I knew I’d been starved for it. I’d yearned for it. And although the water was healing, it wasn’t a miracle, wasn’t laced in magic. There was still pain, still weakness. I’d most definitely be scarred. But I’d be alive, and that was all that mattered.

“Ye’ve been in and out of it for a few days. I managed tae get some broth intae ye while ye were conscious enough tae swallow, made sure yer wound was clean, took ye out of the dirty clothes and slipped my shirt on ye.” He glanced away quickly, and I watched as his throat bobbed when he swallowed. “If ye’re worried that I was inappropriate—”

“—never.” I waited until he glanced at me before continuing. “I know you’re honorable, a gentleman.” It was my turn to squeeze his hand. “I know you’d never do anything to hurt me.”

He cleared his throat again and, dare I say… looked sheepish. I laughed softly.

“I love that sound,” he said, and my laughter faded off at the clear heat in his voice. “Nothing sounds as sweet as yer voice.”

Oh my heart.

“What next? What happens when I’m healed and we don’t have to be here?”

“I’ll take ye tae yer family home but, lass—”

“I know,” I said, cutting him off. “I know they aren’t there any longer. I can feel it in my heart, have for years. But I still want to go.”

He nodded, a fierce look on his face. “After that, we’ll journey tae Scotland.”

“What’s in Scotland?”

His eyes flashed blue, but I wasn’t afraid. I felt protected and safe, knowing his inner animal wouldn’t let anything hurt me. I could see it in his face, smell it in the air, and knew he’d rather die than feel like he betrayed me.

I stared at his face, saw the jagged scar he sported, remembered how he got it so long ago, how he’d fought so bravely and determinedly.

“Home, darlin’. Home is what’s in Scotland.”

Chapter

Twelve

Larkin

“Home, darlin’. Home is what’s in Scotland.”

“And if I want home to be somewhere else?”

He leaned in and brought his face close to mine, his lips a hairsbreadth away from my own. “Home is where ye are. Where ye go, I follow.”

I thought back to what he said two nights ago, how if I wanted to go to the ends of the earth, he’d follow, and my heart did this painful twist in my chest.

My days since that conversation had been spent resting in bed, with Odhran tending to my wound and making sure I had enough to eat and drink.

He carried me outside to the ocean in the mornings and evenings, insisting on holding me the entire time as he walked into the water and submerged us to my chest.

Never did he rush me while in the water, and I always found myself drifting off into a sort of trance as I felt it lap around me in gentle motions. I felt my strength slowly grow with each passing day.

I exhaled, thinking of my mate. Always thinking of him. He’d left the bedroom twenty minutes before, telling me he’d make me dinner, something more substantial than the broth I’d been trying to keep down.

I couldn’t help but feel a little strange at the attention he gave me, not because it was from him, but because I’d gone without an act of kindness for so long that it made me feel a little confused and uncomfortable.

A part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it, and I knew that was all because of the Assembly. They’d twisted up my mind and emotions to make me think these things. But even knowing this, it didn’t change how my mind now worked.

I’d always thought—fantasized—that when I was back with Odhran, he’d fill that hole that had grown in me. He’d make that pain finally disappear.

I slowly, gingerly, rose from the bed, hissing out as my side pulled and protested. I lifted Odhran’s shirt I wore, the material soft between my fingers. I brought the bottom to my nose and inhaled deeply, closing my eyes, feeling serenity and warmth wash through me.

For so long, I pictured my home being with Odhran, reveling in that feeling I had sitting with him in the clearing. But now that we were here, together, all I could think about was my time back at the facility, pacing that cell, feeling that pain. So much pain.

I opened my eyes and looked down at the wound, no longer covered in a bandage, the skin now nothing but a puckered red scar. I could hear Odhran moving around on the other side of the wall and found myself pushing up from the bed and slowly walking toward the window. I’d asked him to leave it open despite the change in weather and the drop in temperature.

I leaned a shoulder against the window frame and wrapped my arms around my middle, staring out at the ocean. The bedroom window had a direct view of the beach, and I watched those rolling waves crash against the rocky shore. A storm was coming, and coming fast, with dark, angry clouds rolling overhead and a bitter chill in the air.

I closed my eyes just as a breeze moved by. My skin and hair smelled like brine, and I inhaled deeply. Just as I opened my eyes, I sensed Odhran stepping into the room.

“Ye should be in bed, lass.” He walked over to the bed and set the tray down before coming over to me, both hands lifting as he cupped either side of my face. I had to tilt my head back in order to look into his face, my mate so tall and big that he was larger than life.

“I’m okay,” I whispered. “I was tired of lying down, and I’m feeling much better. Thanks to you.”

“I know. I just worry about ye.” He leaned in, rested his forehead against mine, and closed his eyes as he inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. “Having ye back has made me doubly protective. Even letting ye out of my sight brings me worry and has my wolf a fooking demon.”

I grinned, loving how he pronounced “fucking.” That Scottish brogue really did things to me.

I lifted my hands and placed them over his, feeling the small scars that littered his skin. He was a warrior, and the battles he fought were displayed across his skin like a map, a testament to his strength, but also proved he could be harmed, even if he was the strongest male I’d ever met.

He slipped his hands down my cheeks, over my neck, and curled his fingers gently against my shoulders. He leaned in and dragged the tip of his tongue down the path he’d just taken with one of his hands and buried his face in the crook of my neck. I heard him inhale deeply, this low rumble leaving him, one I knew was from pleasure and contentment.

For long moments, he just smelled me, lightly brushing his lips back and forth over my pulse point, sending goose bumps along my body. I closed my eyes and just enjoyed the feel of him, shivered at the scruff that lined his cheeks and jaw, that abrasion sparking tendrils of desire that I’d only felt one other time in my life.

With him.

A soft moan left me, and I let my head fall to the side even more, giving him better access. He groaned and started kissing that spot right where my neck and shoulder met, murmuring in Gaelic, his deep words making heat move through me before settling right between my legs.

“My girl. My Larkin,” he groaned again and gently ran his elongated canines over the tender skin of my shoulder.

But the need was pushed away as I instinctively tensed, as all the pleasure and happiness I felt right then was taken from me. I saw flashes of myself back in that cell, the remnants of pain from my time there trying to take control. My heart raced, and beads of sweat started to line my temples.

And of course Odhran sensed the change in me, because he took a step back right away. I tried to push the thoughts of being with the Assembly out of my mind. I was safe now. I was safe now. I’m safe now.

They couldn’t touch me. I was here with my mate, and he would protect me.

Odhran had one hand still covering my cheek, the other one curling gently around the side of my throat. His brows were pulled down low, his nostrils flared, and his jaw was clenched tightly.

“Larkin, lass…” His voice was thick and filled with pain. “Ye… Ye fear me?”

I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head, leaning forward and resting my forehead on the center of his chest. For long moments, I said nothing, just stayed in that position as he cupped the back of my head and held me.

My memories and fear tried to pull me under, to take me back to that dark, dirty, and ugly place. It tried to keep me in hell.

“It’s not you I’m afraid of,” I whispered and clutched at his shirt, feeling tears well in my eyes. For a frightening moment, I was sure I was broken, that although only a few days had passed since we escaped, no amount of time could ever heal the kind of damage that ran the entirety of my soul.

He didn’t respond and didn’t make me say anything else. He gently wrapped his arms around my body and continued to hold me. We stood like that for long moments until finally I pulled back and looked up at his face, showing all the vulnerability and all the fear I felt. Because I wouldn’t hide it. I wouldn’t pretend it wasn’t there, least of all from Odhran.

The smile he gave me was soft, gentle, and when he gestured for me to go over to the bed, I didn’t say anything and obeyed.

We both sat on the mattress, and he proceeded to feed me from his hand, the silence and his strong presence a welcome companion.

I hoped that fate wasn’t so cruel that it would give me Odhran only to keep this wall between us so we’d never find peace.

Surely we deserved to be happy after all this time.

Chapter

Thirteen

Larkin

The storm was raging outside, angry and loud, letting the world know it was powerful and strong and all-consuming.

The power had flickered on and off for half an hour before we were finally plunged into darkness. And now I sat on the couch in the living room, the fire Odhran had started roaring in the hearth, my focus on a book I found on the shelf.

But I wasn’t paying attention to the words, my eyes skimming over the sentences without taking anything in. I kept thinking back to how I reacted when he held me, when he kissed my neck and desire had licked through me so fast and hard, I never wanted it to end.

I looked away from the fire and stared at my mate. He leaned back in the leather chair, a glass of whiskey balanced on the armrest, his fingers curled around it. His focus was on me, and the shadows played across his face, flickers of light making the masculine angles seem sharper.

He gave me a small smile, and I wondered if he was thinking the same things I was. Because even if I panicked earlier, it felt good, and I hadn’t wanted it to end, even if my mind had done that job for me.

“How are ye feeling, lass?”

I licked my lips and didn’t miss how his gaze dropped to my mouth or how his pupils dilated.

“I’m okay.” I have to be.

I could see the worry on his face and knew no amount of me telling him it wasn’t him who made me react the way I had earlier, but me, would alleviate any kind of worry he had.

I kept thinking over and over that something was terribly wrong with me, something so broken that it could never be repaired, could never be put back together.

I’m stronger than this. I’m stronger than my horrors.

I set the book down and slowly rose. The shirt I wore was Odhran’s and hung to my knees, and I wore a pair of thick wool socks that were pulled up so they got swallowed by the hem of the shirt.

Although he’d gotten me a few pieces of clothing from a small boutique in town, I found myself still wearing his shirts and socks. It made me feel closer to him.

As I walked toward him, any lingering twinges of pain from the wound at my side faded to the background. I watched as his fingers tightened around the glass, saw his throat move as he swallowed. I felt this unwavering heavy weight of sadness fill me suddenly.

When I stopped in front of him, he tipped his head back and stared at me, his eyes hooded, the fumes of the whiskey he drank mixing with the dark and wild scent that clung to him. My belly fluttered, and desire made its way through me once more.

I wanted him.

“Larkin?” His voice was a husky rumble.

I was tired of being afraid. I was tired of fear tethering me to the unknown. I knew Odhran wouldn’t hurt me. I knew he’d only give me soft touches and sweet kisses.

And so I found myself sitting on his lap before I could stop myself, before I could let all my thoughts weigh me down until there was nothing else I could think about. I could feel how tense he was underneath me, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled sharply.

I’d never done something so bold, never even thought about it, but here I was, both legs hanging over Odhran’s thickly muscled ones, my focus on his lips. I let myself memorize every part of his face, the masculine scruff that covered his jaw and cheeks. His eyes were so blue, his nose straight and strong, his lips full and pink.

I stared at the scar that ran the length of one side of his face and found myself lifting my hand to run my finger along it. I thought back to the day he’d gotten it, how I’d screamed and cried as I watched the sword move toward him and cut him deep.

“You’re so very beautiful to me,” I whispered, and felt my cheeks warm that I said the words out loud. Surely a male didn’t want to hear how beautiful he was. But the smile he gave me, and how he covered my hand that rested against the scar, had any shyness leaving me.

My heart was beating so hard and fast I could hear it. My other hand shook as I lifted it and cupped each side of his face. His scruff was springy yet soft under my palms.

For a suspended moment, neither of us spoke. He sat there and let me explore him, let me run my fingers over all the hard lines and sharp angles that made him so very masculine. And then I was staring at his mouth once more.

I trailed my fingers over his top lip, then moved it along his bottom. His mouth was soft despite all the maleness he exuded. And when I lightly shifted on his lap and felt the very prominent hardness right under my bottom, a soft sound escaped me.

“I’m sorry, Larkin,” he all but groaned. “I canna help it, no’ with ye so close.”

I smiled, because he sounded so pained in the best of ways.

He felt huge under my bottom, girthy and long, a little—or maybe a lot—frightening in size, if I were being honest.

“You’re so hard, Odhran.” I didn’t know why I said it out loud and instantly felt my cheeks heat in mortification.

He rested his head back on the chair and looked at me with hooded eyes. The sound that came from him was part sigh, part moan, and then he was smoothing his fingers along my cheeks, where my flesh felt like it was on fire.

He didn’t say anything, and I knew he was giving me the power to do as little or as much as I wanted, even if I could see in his eyes how hard it was to relinquish his dominance.

He started breathing harder. I could see how tight his jaw was, felt how his whole body trembled. And in that moment, I felt very powerful. I wasn’t even half the size of my mate, yet he looked at me as if I frightened him.

I slid my hands down his cheeks and cupped either side of his neck. His pulse beat frantically beneath my fingers, and I slowly licked my lips, feeling warmth fill me.

I remembered this sensation from when we were in that clearing and he kissed me passionately. I could still taste the wild flavor that covered his tongue and lips as I felt all that hard masculinity press against me.

My body softened, I heard a low rumble leave him, and I was moving closer, my focus on his lips. His mouth was slightly parted, his canines getting longer right before my eyes.

It was a heady sensation, seeing Odhran aroused, even more powerful to feel that desire lick across my body. Because although I knew he was trying to control himself, knew how powerful he was, I also knew he wouldn’t hurt me. Never.

He still said nothing, didn’t move, didn’t try to touch me anymore than he was.

I pressed my lips against his, just the lightest of touches. This was the first time I’d been the one to initiate any kind of sexual act, and as much as it was empowering, I felt grossly inadequate, wholly inexperienced.

But I also knew Odhran, being my fated mate, would also be just as inexperienced as I was. Neither one of us had touched another, never desired anyone else.

But his instincts would take over, the primal, alpha side of him knowing exactly what to do, knowing inherently how to pleasure me when the time came.

I moved my mouth slowly over his, exploring his lips, tasting his passion for me. His body was so hard beneath me, all but shaking in his need, in his arousal. The heavy, throbbing stiffness of his erection dug into my bottom, jerking every once in a while as I delved deeper into the kiss, as I explored him more thoroughly.

And when I opened my mouth and dragged my tongue along the seam of his lips, the harsh groan that left him sent a surge of power through me. He moved his tongue sensually, slowly along mine, and a soft gasp followed by a moan left me.

I heard his nails clawing at the leather armrest, heard his heavy, increased breathing, and I felt fire move through me before settling right between my legs. Warm wetness spilled from me, and I clenched my thighs, the sensation so foreign that I pulled back, my eyes feeling wide as I panted.

His eyes were hooded, his lips red and glossy and slightly parted from our kiss. He was so very big and masculine, his shoulders so broad, his muscles so pronounced that even the chair seemed minuscule in comparison.

I felt more wetness spill from that secret place between my thighs and watched as his nostrils flared. My face heated further, understanding he could smell me, knew my desire was raging for him.

“It’s okay, darlin’.” His voice was so deep and distorted I knew his wolf was sharing this time with the both of us.

And as if to let me know the beast was here too, Odhran’s eyes flashed blue.

“Your wolf,” I moaned, feeling even more arousal at that thought. I could see the visage of his animal flash across his face, his bone structure becoming sharper.

“It’s okay,” he said again and again. “I canna help it. He wants tae be here with us, to taste ye, touch ye. He’s a selfish, greedy bastard.” He was panting. “Like me.”

I moaned at the thought, more wetness spilling from my pussy.

“Ah, my girl, so primed for me.” He dug his nails deeper into the leather, tearing the material. “What ye’re feeling is normal. It’s how it’s supposed tae be.”

I ran my tongue over my lips, tasting his flavor. He groaned again, and I leaned forward once more, kissing him, wanting to crawl inside Odhran where it was safe and warm and where I’d always feel this pleasure.

I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, and we deepened the kiss, tongues pressing and moving together, our flavors and scents coexisting as one. His cock throbbed incessantly underneath me, and I started rocking back and forth, finding a rhythm that had me so slick between my legs, I knew if I stood that wetness would slide down my inner thighs.

I moaned once more and got lost in all things Odhran. But when I felt his hand move up my back, following the length of my spine, something in me started to change, to shift. I tried to push it back, reminding myself this was my mate, my protector.

Flashes of my prison, of the pain and torture, of the cruel hits and touches, flashed in my mind so fast and brightly that Odhran instantly sensed the change. He let go of me, and as I continued to push past those memories that had once again ruined this moment, I felt so hopeless that I was crying before I realized the tears fell.

“My sweet girl.” His voice was guttural, filled with pain.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m broken.” My eyes were squeezed shut so tightly they stung. I shook my head over and over again, trying to clear the memories away.

He wrapped his arms around me slowly, gently. And when I wasn’t pulled back to the past, he gently stroked by back.

“I’ll never let ye go. I’ll always be here. No matter what.” He started speaking in Gaelic, soft words I didn’t understand but knew they were meant to ease me. “There’s no rush. No rush at all.” He kissed the top of my head, and I buried my face in the crook of his neck.

After a few moments, and after I gathered my self-control, I whispered, “I’m not normal.” I felt his arms tighten around me as if reflexively.

“There’s no such thing as normal, sweetheart. We are how we’re meant tae be in this world. We just have tae navigate new waters.” He kissed my temple and said something in Gaelic. “We have the rest of our lives tae find what works for us, and if all I ever get tae do is hold ye like this, I’ll count myself the luckiest male ever.”

I clutched his shirt and shook my head, although I didn’t know what I was denying.

“No rush,” he murmured. “And we’ll find our new normal. We’ll work through what we have tae, because we’re meant tae be together.”

He kept speaking in Gaelic, the words slowly morphing into what resembled a lullaby.

And despite the turmoil, the hardship, and all the obstacles that seemed to stand in our way of finding that elusive happily ever after, I knew no matter what, this was where I was meant to be.

I just didn’t know if that was how destiny saw it too.

Chapter

Fourteen

Odhran

I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since… gods, since Larkin was taken from me. And even though I now had her back, protected and safe with me, and would never let anyone hurt her again, I still couldn’t rest.

I’d made it my normal to stay in her room and watch her sleep, something that helped calm me because she was within reach. I couldn’t lose her again. I wouldn’t.

I was a strong male, powerful, an alpha. I’d won countless battles, became a warlord. I was known for my savagery and brutality on the battlefield.

But when it came to Larkin… I was weak.

I was a coward and felt like I had no control.

I scrubbed a hand over my face, feeling my scruff and knowing I needed to shave. When we’d first gotten here, I made a pallet on the floor, but when all I did was toss and turn, I brought in the leather chair from the living room.

For hours, I’d just read, intermittently watching her sleep, hyper-fixated on the steady rise and fall of her chest. Then I said fuck the reading when she had her first nightmare. I couldn’t concentrate anyway, but knowing she was reliving her trauma while she should be at peace and resting was like someone taking a spoon and digging out my heart.

I leaned forward and braced my forearms on my thighs, just watching her, thinking about the heinous shit the Assembly did to me in the short amount of time I was there. She had been in their clutches for decades, had dealt with that horror for so long.

My girl was strong, had survived, but the pain was still clutching at her.

The guilt ate at me, shame that if I’d been a stronger male and kept them away, then my female would never have been hurt.

Her words echoed in my head, whispers about how she felt she was broken, that she was ruined. It had my eyes prickling and my chest becoming uncomfortably tight.

I hung my head and ran a hand over my eyes, knowing I’d spend the rest of my life proving to her that fate had given her a worthy male.

She made a soft sound, and I glanced up, seeing her fingers twitch and her eyes moving back and forth behind her closed lids. When she settled again and made a soft sigh, I scrubbed my hands over my face. I was running on pure adrenaline, so tired yet unable to rest.

I hated this for her, hated this for us. My vengeance and turmoil had fueled me for so long that now that I had her back, all I felt was this draining energy. I wanted to be the best mate I could for her, to lavish her with the affection and love she deserved. But in my heart, I still felt like I didn’t deserve her, that I’d forever let her down.

For I’d broken the sacred trust between mates.

She had since buried herself inside my heart, had been a part of me for so long that the very idea of her not being mine made me physically ill.

I leaned back in the chair again and rested my head on the cushion, closing my eyes and feeling the heaviness of exhaustion start to weigh down on me. It was when that elusive sleep was so close—that I was jolted back to reality at the sound of her screaming.

I was up and out of the chair in seconds, cradling her small body in my arms as she gasped, waking up from her nightmare. I ran my hands over her hair, the scent of sea salt and coconut from the shampoo in the bathroom clinging to the silky raven strands.

Although she wasn’t crying this time—thank the gods—she was gasping, clutching at my shirt, murmuring incoherently. I started singing to her softly in Gaelic, a song my mother used to sing to me right before I went to sleep.

When I first sang it to Larkin, just last night, she calmed relatively quickly. I’d felt the same way when my mother had done it to me, drifting off into the serene comfort until I felt like nothing could get me because she was there, because the words of the warrior protecting his family made it so. And I was glad I was able to offer some kind of solace to my mate.

“I’m so tired, Odhran,” she finally whispered after long minutes of me just holding her.

I knew she wasn’t talking about sleep. I knew she was talking about everything else.

“Odhran,” she whispered again.

“What is it, my girl?” I kept stroking her hair.

“Can we leave here? Can you take me to see if my family’s home is still standing? Can you take me home?”

I kissed the crown of her head and wrapped my arms more tightly around her. She curled her tiny body against mine, and my heart lurched in my chest. I wanted to be her shield, to ensure nothing and no one ever touched her again. I wanted to make her invincible.

“I’ll take ye wherever ye want tae go. I’ll follow ye tae the ends of the earth. Ye lead, I’ll follow.” There were truths I had yet to reveal, truths I hoped would ease her, make her happy.

I knew getting to our happily ever after wasn’t going to be easy. Hell, I didn’t even know if I had that ending in my story, but I hoped. I hoped like hell, prayed to the gods, bargained and pleaded, begged and sobbed.

I might be physically stronger, double her size and weight, and could level anything that stood in her way, but she was the one with all the power. I was putting it all in her hands.

All I wanted was Larkin. That was all I’d ever wanted.

Chapter

Fifteen

Larkin

Technology was something I’d been forced to acclimate to since being captured by the Assembly. I’d learned about cameras and electricity, modern advancements in the form of ways they could torture us.

Modes of transportation hadn’t been a foreign subject to me either, but my knowledge of them had been when I’d been free. Although my family hadn’t owned anything but wagons and horses, preferring to stay away from civilization and be isolated in the protection of the woods, the vehicle I was currently in was something that could only be envisioned in a dream.

After leaving Ireland days before, we’d taken a train to get to an airstrip. There had been what Odhran called a private jet—which was a rather frightening experience. It had only been him and me, the two pilots, and a flight attendant aboard, but it had been such a shock to my system that I felt anxious the entire time.

And so Odhran made them land as soon as we entered Scotland so we could drive the rest of the way. I couldn’t say I was upset we’d be making the rest of the trek this way, because with it just being the two of us, my anxiety had diminished.

The car we were in didn’t resemble anything I could have ever envisioned in my wildest dreams. It could have doubled as someone’s home for as large and comfortable as it was, with animal hide on the seats and warm air blowing right in front of me. There was even music coming from little black boxes—speakers, Odhran called them—that filled the interior with pleasant noise.

Once we landed in Scotland, there had been two large dark vehicles, ones Odhran said were called SUVs. There had been four males standing beside the vehicles, and Odhran kept his hand firmly in mine as we walked toward them.

The males had been huge, imposing. Lycans. They looked at me with an expression of shock and respect but didn’t say a word to me and didn’t touch me. And I knew Odhran wouldn’t have allowed them to do either regardless.

Although I’d never told him, it was painfully clear by how I reacted and how I was taking everything that being around strangers wasn’t going to be comfortable for me at this time.

I rested my head back on the seat and looked over at him. The lights from what he called the dashboard illuminated his stark features. He still had dark circles under his eyes, still had the sharp features on his face and the hollowed cheekbones as if he wasn’t eating enough. And I knew it was because of me.

I’d woken up more times than I cared to admit from the nightmares. I’d been trapped, held down, knives cutting into me, evil laughter filling my head as they hurt me over and over again. The dreams had been so real. So real that I’d woken up screaming and crying.

And the only thing that made it all bearable was Odhran, holding me, telling me everything would be okay.

I didn’t know how long we’d been driving—several hours at least—but I didn’t mind. I liked the quiet that this trip provided, the time I could be in my mate’s presence.

I was nervous for when we reached our destination, afraid of what I would find and how much things had changed. It had already been a shock to me as I’d seen all the technological advances.

So much change.

In my heart, I knew I wouldn’t find my parents alive and well and waiting for me. They’d been advanced in age before I’d been taken, and so much time had passed. It broke my heart, but I’d come to terms with it long ago that I’d never see them again.

I thought back to all I’d seen on our journey here. Houses that seemed to reach the sky were everywhere. The flashing lights were intense, and the cars were fast and noisy. I missed the isolation the forest afforded, the cottage shared with my family, which was probably no longer standing, but it had always made me feel content and safe.

Odhran slowed as we entered a small town, and I felt a little more at ease, as we were no longer surrounded by the hectic city life but more laid-back, old-school surroundings. Things felt a bit more familiar here, as if technology and modern times hadn’t touched the village.

There were cobblestone pathways, quaint storefronts with glowing lights hanging along the cropping of the roof. Patrons sat at little bistro tables as the sun started to set, mugs in front of them, smiles on their faces as if they had no idea the true horrors the world offered.

My stomach took that moment to growl, and I heard a soft laugh come from Odhran. I felt my face heat as I glanced over at him and smiled shyly.

“I was going tae ask my lass if she was hungry, but it looks like I donna have tae.”

He reached over and took my hand, bringing my fingers to his mouth and kissing each one of my knuckles.

He kept hold of my hand as he drove for a couple more minutes before pulling the behemoth vehicle onto a small road and coming to a stop in front of a tiny café.

There were lights hanging along the front window that reminded me of the bobbles my mother used to hang on the tree during the festive seasons. And the soft yellow glow that came from the inside illuminated the small courtyard that had a few café tables and some flowering trees sitting out front.

“We don’t have to stop if we’re close to your home.” I glanced over at him and saw he was looking down at where our hands were entwined.

He ran his thumb over the back of my knuckles, almost mesmerized by the sight. “We’re still a few hours from home.”

Home. I liked hearing him say that. He glanced up at me, and I could see so many emotions filtering across his face.

But the one that was most evident was hope. It made my own happiness grow, beating down the ugliness that tried to stay at the forefront of my emotions.

“And I wasn’t about tae let my girl go hungry.”

I felt my cheeks heat even more at the endearment. I couldn’t lie; I’d never tire of him calling me such sweet things. His girl.

He was out of the SUV and rounding the front of the vehicle before I even had my hand on the handle. He opened the door for me and held his palm out. I slipped mine into his much larger one, loving how his fingers engulfed mine.

We walked into the little café, and I marveled at how quaint it was, how it reminded me so much of days gone by. There wasn’t anything flashy or modern about it. It had the aesthetics of making me feel as if I were in my mother’s kitchen, watching her prepare meals for the family.

When I focused on the present once more, I listened to the deep rumble of Odhran’s voice as he spoke in Gaelic to the older woman who stood at a podium. She had age lines around her eyes and mouth, and a warmth in her eyes that told me she loved and had been loved heavily in all her years.

She led us to a table in the back, one that was isolated and private. And I knew without having to ask that Odhran specifically requested something just like this.

“I like this place. It feels… like how things used to be.” I didn’t know if he knew what I meant, but his smile and the way he reached across the table to take my hand in his told me maybe he did.

“I thought ye may like it. I saw it in passing years ago. I knew once ye were back in my life I wanted tae bring ye here,” he said in a deep voice.

And just like that, he had me blushing.

We stared into each other’s eyes, and for a second, I could envision that all the horrible things had never happened to us. I felt my shoulders relax, and just as I smiled back, a loud crash sounded behind me.

I was so startled I jumped, and a shocked cry left me.

This low growl left Odhran as he tightened his hand on mine and glanced over my shoulder at where the noise came from.

I felt my face heat further that the pots and pans falling to the floor scared me that much. His eyes flashed blue, and some of my embarrassment faded.

“So protective, even when your mate freaks out over nothing.” I tried to make light of the situation, using a teasing tone, chuckling a little, because I was more embarrassed than anything else. But the serious look on his face had me sobering, and the feel of his thumb moving back and forth over my hand had me swallowing roughly.

“I should’ve been more considerate.” He furrowed his brow and looked down at the table, then glanced around at the restaurant. “I can have them package up our dinner, and we can go if ye’re uncomfortable—”

“I’m fine.” I cut him off before he could say anything else, and then waited until he looked back at me. “This is just a very new experience. Although going places isn’t new, it’s been a very long time, so I’m jumpy. But I know I’m safe with you.”

His brows lowered even more, and I saw his throat work as he swallowed, his focus on where he was touching the back of my hand.

“Ye shouldn’t feel safe with me though,” he said in a hushed voice, so low I almost didn’t hear him clearly. “I let ye down once—”

I placed my free hand on top of his, sandwiching his much bigger palm between mine. “Odhran.” I waited until he looked up at me, but he took long seconds, and the expression on his face told me he was fighting with himself, living with this turmoil, because he couldn’t forgive himself over what had happened. “Oh, Odhran,” I whispered.

We’d both been living in our own personal hells, it seemed.

“What happened is not your fault.” His rumble of protest had me shaking my head, stopping him, because I knew he’d try to argue with me. “It’s not your fault, and it’s not mine. Because sometimes things just happen. We can’t control every aspect of our lives. I’m a firm believer in fate. You have to be as well in order to know that I am yours and you are mine.”

He licked his lips slowly, and his eyes flashed blue. I knew he understood what I meant, that he felt it too. We were fated to be together, and because of that, he had to know we didn’t control our destiny.

For long moments, neither of us said anything, the heavy weight of my words hanging between us. And then he cleared his throat, brought my hand to his mouth, and kissed each one of my knuckles again.

“If fate hadn’t given ye tae me as my mate, I would’ve made ye mine regardless.”

My heart lurched in my chest at his words, at the sincerity, the bone-deep genuine tone. He meant what he said, and I felt the exact same way.

The strange atmosphere that we found ourselves in faded away as a young man came to the table to take our order. We were given menus, and I looked at all the selections. For so long, I had my choices taken away, so I almost felt uncomfortable in a way, picking the simplest thing like my meal.

How sad was it that even picking what I wanted to eat had now become a gift?

The authentic Scottish cuisine was something I’d never had, and so I ordered a couple of different items, much to Odhran’s excitement and clear pleasure.

I ordered the salmon and a small sampling of mussels and oysters. As an appetizer, I ordered a soup called Cullen Skink, which the young man taking our order took great pride in explaining was a thick Scottish soup made of potatoes, onions, and finnan haddie, making the dish authentic.

I was speechless as I listened to Odhran order an array of dishes that could’ve easily fed a small village, but then again, he was a large male, big and strong, and needed a lot to fuel his powerful body. And I liked that he was eating so much, that he’d fill in those cheeks, that he didn’t have to worry about me, because I, too, would be eating better than I ever had before.

We ate and laughed, talked about our lives, things we’d done as children, and the memories we had. We steered clear of any conversation that had to do with after I’d been taken. It was safer that way. It was better, because it gave us a chance to focus on the positive.

After we’d eaten our fill, Odhran ordered coffee and shortbread. There was an array of flavors, chocolate and caramel, even a delicate rosewater. It was served with raspberry preserves and local honey.

When we left and were back in the SUV, my belly full, my body relaxed, and my mind clear of anything that wasn’t wonderfully positive, I felt myself become lethargic in the best of ways.

He covered me up with his jacket as soon as we’d gotten in the vehicle, and I settled back in the leather and felt the warm air coming from the vents blowing over me, the soft music coming from the speakers lulling me into relaxation.

I was looking at him as my eyes became heavy, marveling at how we were actually here, together.

It was his image I stared at as I drifted off to sleep, and I hoped the demons in my mind stayed in the dark recesses to give me a semblance of peace.

Chapter

Sixteen

Larkin

I must have fallen asleep, because I was roused by the feeling of fingers caressing my cheek and the scent of Odhran filling my head.

I shifted in the car’s seat and blinked open my eyes. The passenger side door was open, the cool, fresh night air wafting in. Odhran had his face buried in the crook of my neck, the sound of him inhaling pulling a smile at the corner of my lips.

Sleep still tugged at my consciousness as I lifted my arms, which felt too heavy, and I slipped my fingers through his soft, short dark-blond hair. He smelled so good, felt so nice against me, warm and big and strong. I let my nails slowly scrape over his scalp, and he groaned, his hands on my upper arms gently clenching, as if he was trying to be gentle.

I blinked open my eyes fully and waited a second before my vision cleared. I could see how dark it was outside, no more hints of dusk teasing the horizon.

I’d clearly slept the rest of the way to his home, night fully fallen over the land. The light from inside the SUV created a glare, which made it almost impossible for me to see the surroundings clearly.

Or maybe it was because my mind was hazy as the comfort and pleasure of being surrounded by my mate filled me. He pulled back slightly, and I shifted on the seat so my legs were now outside of the car, my feet braced on the frame. I spread my thighs slightly so he could move in even closer, and I wound my arms around his broad shoulders.

He still had his face buried in the crook of my neck, still intermittently smelling me. The feeling of his lips brushing up and down that spot where my throat and my shoulder met had goose bumps forming along my arms.

“You feel so good,” he rumbled out, his accent seeming thicker. “Smell like mine.”

My breath caught at the sound of those words.

“I’m no’ keen on moving away anytime soon.”

I laughed softly and continued to drag my fingernails gently along his scalp. “I’m okay with staying like this.” And I was.

In this hazy moment where sleep still slightly clung to me, and where the night enveloped us, and where there was nothing but the sound of our combined breathing, it was as if nothing else could touch us; nothing else could touch this experience.

He held me for another second before he pulled back, his expression showing disappointment and reluctance to let me go. I let my fingers slide off him and ran my palms over his scruff-covered cheeks, then moved my thumb along his bottom lip. I stared at his mouth, this hunger filling me.

He was just so big and strong, still standing between my thighs. I noticed the change in him instantly, the way his breathing increased, the fact that his pupils dilated, his mouth slightly parting. Gods, his canines were getting longer, his eyes flashing blue.

I shifted on the seat a little bit more, moving closer to him, feeling the hard, massive length of his erection pressing right against me. I felt my entire body flush, felt heat and wetness saturate the area between my thighs. His nostrils flared as he inhaled, and I knew he smelled my desire for him.

But he didn’t move, didn’t touch me back. So I found myself kissing him gently on the lips, nothing too deep-delving, just the lightest brush of my mouth against his before I pulled back and smiled at him.

“It’s late. Let’s get ye settled.”

His voice was husky, and it felt good knowing he sounded that way because he was aroused… because of me.

“First thing in the morning, ye let me know what ye want tae do, and that’s what we’ll do.” He cupped the side of my face and stroked his thumb over my mouth, then gently pulled the flesh down before letting it go so it went back into place.

And then the moment was broken as he stepped fully back and held his hand out for me. Once out of the vehicle, he led me toward the sprawling estate. I felt my eyes widen, my mouth going slightly slack at the house in front of me, if something so big could even be called a “house.”

It was massive, with three stories, and the structure was made of stone and wood with an arched doorway and stained-glass windows. I could see the lush forest and rolling hills of the highlands spread out all around the property.

We walked up the landscaped pathway, small pebbles being kicked up by the soft soles of my shoes. Decorative lighting lined our way, and although I couldn’t see anyone else, I sensed others around, hidden within the shadows, tucked away behind the thick trees.

Guards, protectors.

“Lycan sentries,” Odhran answered as if he read my mind.

I had a feeling they were here because of me. It was doubtful Odhran had Lycans watching over his property on any other occasion. He was strong enough to handle that himself.

“You’re taking extra precautions with me.” I didn’t phrase it like a question.

“Aye, lass. I will no’ fail ye again.”

Once inside, I found myself frozen in place as I looked around, my head tipped back as I took in the large cathedral-style ceilings, the exposed wooden beams, the rustic, lodge-like feeling of his estate. There were massive furs covering the floor, and a huge staircase right in front of us that curled and wound its way up to the second and third levels. The walls were decorated with his family’s tartan and stuffed animal heads, boars and deer, pheasants and an array of Scottish themed decor.

There were doors upon doors on either side of me, and my gaze landed on the large opening to my left. I felt the heavy weight of Odhran’s hand on the small of my back, and it didn’t move as I walked forward. My constant protector and shadow.

I stopped when I got to the entrance, the library unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Shelving lined each wall, reaching all the way to the arched ceiling. There was a massive fireplace situated in the center, leather chairs and couches in front of that. A roaring fire was already blazing in the hearth.

“I’ve never seen so many books,” I murmured, not moving from my spot, Odhran’s hand still on my back.

“Would ye like to explore?”

I turned and tipped my head to look at him. “I’m tired, and I know we’ll have all the time to explore all the things.”

He didn’t speak, but there was a soft look on his face and a small smile on his lips.

He led me to the stairs, and I spotted a few staff moving around, some carrying vases of fresh cut flowers, others holding laundered sheets and blankets. They smiled politely at me, showed respect to Odhran by inclining their heads, but otherwise they kept to their task.

Once on the second floor, we walked down the grand hallway, over the hardwood floor that was covered with a thick, plush rug, and finally stopped in front of twin doors at the end of the hallway. He pushed one of the doors open and allowed me to enter first.

The first thing I noticed was the scent. It had a dark and spicy aroma that saturated the slightly chilled air. It was Odhran’s scent, and it was the most incredible smell. The curtains were drawn open from the large picture window, and although I couldn’t see much outside because it was so late, I could envision the view would be spectacular in the morning.

A second later, Odhran turned on the light, and the room was washed in a warm glow. The color scheme was a rich navy and soft cream, which accented the natural wood of the floor and the beams that ran along the ceiling.

A large four-poster bed sat in the center of the room, and a marble fireplace was situated across from that, with a single leather chair and a small end table positioned before the mantel.

Aside from those two pieces of furniture and a small nightstand, the room was barren of decorations.

“This is your room.” I stated it instead of asking, because I knew without having to be told.

I spied a closet that was larger than any one I’d seen before now. There was a bathroom across from that, the white granite flooring peeking out from the shadowy interior.

When he didn’t respond, I turned and faced him fully.

He lifted his hand and ran it over the back of his hair, and for a second, my mate looked… sheepish.

“I will no’ stay here with ye, but I’d be lying if I dinna admit I want ye in my room, in my bed, and surrounded by my things.” He looked at me fully then, and there was so much possession in his expression I felt it.

He pulled his shoulders back, and his expression was one of pride at the very thought of me in his space. And that pleased him to no end. I couldn’t deny that a part of me wanted that too, that I’d been secretly hoping this was where I’d stay.

Odhran cleared his throat and ran a hand over the back of his neck once more, and I felt myself warm at the sight of him looking so bashful. He started explaining the room as if he wanted a change of subject, and I let him divert the conversation as I followed him.

I stepped inside the closet and took a look at one side of the interior, where the upper and lower racks were filled with feminine clothing. He answered my unspoken question by telling me with pride he’d had clothing bought for me. The other side of the closet was clearly his clothing, slacks and button-downs, jeans and shirts all hanging perfectly.

I glanced back at “my side” and then at Odhran, knowing my eyes were wide. “You bought all of this for me?” My voice sounded breathy, far too soft for anyone to actually hear. But his expression softened, and he smiled.

“After we landed, I contacted Banner’s mate, Luna, because I had no clue what tae get for ye. She then got in touch with Darragh and Evie, Caelan and Cian’s mates, and the three of them went shopping for ye.”

As I stared at Odhran, I couldn’t help but smile and feel my heart swell at how bashful he looked in admitting that.

“I wanted tae get the things myself, but trust me when I say I’m all thumbs with anything that has tae do with fashion.”

I found myself laughing softly.

“Also, I probably would have ended up getting ye things ye hated.”

“Oh? Why do you think that?” I walked over to one of the shirts hanging up and ran my fingers over the soft material.

“Because I’d have picked the least attractive things for ye tae ensure no other male looked in yer direction.”

I glanced at him and lifted a brow.

“Because then I’d have tae gouge their eyes out if I caught them admiring ye, lass.”

Now it was my turn to feel bashful as I felt my face heat. It was just clothing, sure, but the level of thoughtfulness that had been given by Odhran squeezed my chest almost painfully.

For a second, we didn’t move or speak, and then I whispered my thanks, not trusting myself to not sob from emotion.

He had that bashful expression on his face once more before gesturing us back into the room and leading me to the bathroom.

The bathroom was, like the rest of this estate, absolutely spectacular. Large enough to be a bedroom on its own, it housed a massive clawfoot tub on one side of the room and a glass-enclosed shower at the other end. A double sink and vanity was parallel to those with rose gold fixtures and white marble.

A vase of fresh cut flowers was situated between the sinks, and the scent and bright colors were enough to almost make me moan.

“Everything ye need has been bought and stored under the sinks and in the cabinet. Soaps and oils, lotions and an array of other feminine products I donna know much about but was assured by the staff was what ye’d need.”

I could have chuckled at how shy he once again became, talking about it all. I moved almost automatically as I followed him out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom.

“I have some things tae take care of, reports I have tae give Banner about what I learned from my time with…” He stopped, and his jaw clenched. “Of course I want ye with me always, but I can sense ye’re tired and want ye tae rest. I can bring ye up some food?” I shook my head, unable to find words, because I felt so suddenly overwhelmed. “Would ye like tea, something warm tae drink? I can have the staff start a fire while I’m gone. Although the house has been modernized and stays warm, if ye’re still too cold…”

“It’s all perfect, Odhran. It’s absolutely perfect.” We stared at each other for long seconds, the kind of gazing that caused your blood to rush and your body to warm because of it.

I could tell he wanted to come to me, but he kept his distance, maybe thinking I needed it. I certainly gave him enough reason to think I might break down once more.

“I’ll leave ye tae it,” he said in that sexy, deep voice of his. “But if ye need me, pick up that phone.” He pointed to the phone in question. “Dial two, and it’ll transfer ye right tae my office, which is where I’ll be for just a short time. I will no’ stay away longer than I have tae.”

I licked my lips and nodded, wanting to say something but unsure how to word it.

“Okay,” he said softly and smiled, a flash of his straight, white teeth and slightly pointed canines.

I clenched my thighs together at the sight, the strange sensation moving inside me as I thought—imagined—him biting my neck, sinking those teeth into the supple flesh of my throat, and marking me in the way I knew his kind yearned for.

He went to turn, and on impulse I reached out and curled my fingers around his thick wrist. He stopped and looked over at me, his body heat spearing into me just from that small touch.

“Will you come back?” I saw the softening of his expression, the warmth entering his eyes. “Will you sleep with me?” The very idea of being alone in this big room terrified me for reasons that had nothing to do with my trauma. I just wanted to be close with him, even if he was just holding me, even if he just whispered goodnight in Gaelic.

“Lass,” he groaned and turned, instantly enveloping me in his big, strong arms. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” He cupped the back of my head and kept me pressed to his chest.

We stayed like that for long seconds before I was the one to step away.

“I’m going to take a bath, but I’ll be here when you get back.” It seemed so silly to say that. Of course I’d be here. It wasn’t as if I was going anywhere else. But I also knew he liked hearing that, the confirmation that I wasn’t leaving. And I liked seeing that pleasure on his face.

With one more lingering look, one more touch of his thumb across my cheek as if he couldn’t help himself, Odhran left and shut the door behind him.

The room suddenly felt vast, too empty, too lonely. Although I was surrounded by his things, his scent in my nose, the memory of his touch fresh, I still felt as if the empty space would swallow me whole. I closed my eyes and let the pleasurable tingling of the arousal he gave me with just a glance move across every exposed part of my body.

And even though we hadn’t solidified anything, although we hadn’t fully consummated being together, and he hadn’t given me his mark, this sensation, this bone-deep need and wanting would only grow within me.

This need to be close, to touch him, for him to touch me… would grow until it consumed me, and there was no stopping it, like a raging wildfire eating up everything in its path.

I lifted a hand to run it over my brow, feeling drops of perspiration. A mated connection was intense, and now that we were back together, it would only burn us both alive until it was completed. And the more we fought it, the more painful it would become.

My mind was in survival mode, fighting with my body over what was good and right and exactly what I needed.

“I’m losing my mind,” I said to nothing and no one as I glanced around the room.

I tried to clear my head of all the “what ifs” and moved toward the closet, looking at all the clothing for a moment. I turned and glanced at the other side, seeing Odhran’s very masculine clothes lined up. Everything felt so strange, like I was in the middle of the ocean, nothing to be seen for miles but the vastness of… nothing.

For so long, I’d been trapped in a cell, the walls unbreakable. The only company I had were my thoughts and my memories, my dreams and my fantasies. And now I had all this space and could see and do anything I wanted.

My heart started racing the longer I stood there, the more that vastness filled me, the more I couldn’t breathe. The room spun, and sweat beaded my brow. I grabbed the first things I saw—a buttery soft pair of pants and a long-sleeved shirt. I stumbled out of the closet and made my way into the bathroom, shutting the door behind me and leaning against it.

For a second, I just stood there with the lights off, my eyes squeezed shut. I blindly reached out to my side until my fingers touched the light switch, and I turned it on.

When I opened my eyes and looked around, my heart started racing a little bit faster as I took in all the unusual things, the modern technologies that were so strange and foreign, yet beautiful and frightening all in the same breath.

I exhaled and walked over to the bathtub, thankful Odhran had explained how to turn it on. Once I had the water adjusted to the right temperature, I turned and looked at myself in the large mirror that hung above the vanity. I’d seen myself since escaping, but I’d been in so much pain and so tired that I hadn’t given much thought to my appearance.

I walked up to the mirror and curled my hands around the granite edge, staring into my blue eyes, taking in my black hair that hung lifelessly over my shoulders, the locks a little bit tangled from sleeping during the car ride.

I lifted a hand and ran my finger under the fading dark circles under my eyes. Over the past few days, I’d eaten better than I had… in far too long. My skin was still pale but didn’t have the translucent effect where I could see the blue lines of my veins underneath from being malnourished and starved in more than one way.

I straightened and took a few steps back, still staring at myself as I started to get undressed. As I removed the layers of clothing, I felt a sixth sense of horror and dread. Aside from the all-but-healed bullet wound on my side, I hadn’t inspected my body in far too long. But now under the glow of the lights, nothing hidden from view, I stood in shock at what was revealed.

Numerous tiny scars littered my abdomen and arms, my thighs, even the tops of my feet. I stared at that nasty brand, one that although had healed and faded some, brought me right back to the beginning when I’d gotten it.

I lifted my hair and turned around, looking over my shoulder at my back. I could see the whip marks covering my flesh, remembering each strike they’d given me over the years.

I dropped the heavy fall of my hair and faced the bathtub, watching as the water flowed out of the spout. At that moment, I felt hideous, didn’t know how Odhran could possibly find me attractive when I couldn’t even stand to look at myself.

How can he ever love me when I can’t even love myself?

After shutting off the water, I climbed into the tub. The water was a little too hot, but I welcomed the sting it brought to my body. It reminded me that I was alive.

I rested my head back and closed my eyes, letting my arms float out on either side of me, the tub so big it swallowed me whole. The lavender oil I’d poured into the water rose with the steam and surrounded me.

My hair stuck to my neck and chest, and my face became dewy from the moisture in the air. I hadn’t felt relaxed in a long time, and for some reason, that made this awful sort of pain settle in my chest.

When I opened my eyes and looked around the bathroom, I thought about the grand room just on the other side of the closed bathroom door, how it felt too big… was too much.

I gasped suddenly, this wave of panic filling me as my pulse beat in my ears and my stomach roiled. I sat up and covered my mouth with the back of my hand as sudden nausea rose up.

I frantically looked around again, then glanced at my body, the water sloshing around me from my sudden movement. My ribs stood out, my belly was concave, and my skin far too pale to look healthy. Oh gods. I ran my fingers over my scars, felt tears fill my eyes before they spilled forth and slid down my cheeks.

And then I was sobbing, and pulled my legs up to my chest as I wrapped my arms around them and dropped my face to my knees. I cried for so long and so hard it hurt.

That was how Odhran found me, the scent of my mate and his wolf filling my head. He was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear him clearly, just watched his mouth move and this pained look cross his face.

The water was now chilled, goose bumps covering my arms and legs. Yet I didn’t feel much of anything but this heavy weight of discomfort. My head was a rush of sorrow, waves filling my ears, so I didn’t even know if he spoke English or Gaelic.

I hated the self-pity I felt.

I didn’t stop him as he gently washed my hair, then rinsed it out. I said nothing as he lifted me easily out of the tub, and didn’t protest as he dried me off with a thick, white towel before wrapping it around me.

I curled against his chest as he carried me into the bedroom and sat me on the edge of the bed. I was this doll he dressed in one of his oversized T-shirts. I felt inner shame that he’d seen my naked form with all the proof of how ugly they’d made me.

“My sweet girl with the softest heart,” he whispered as he moved behind me on the bed and started to brush my hair gently. And then he was braiding the strands, his fingers slow and careful as he intermittently kissed the back of my head before going back to his task at hand.

And when he was finished, he tucked us into the bed and pulled me in close.

I didn’t know when he’d taken off his clothes, but I felt the solid, warm heat of his bare chest at my spine, the soft tickle of his undergarments along the back of my thighs. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me impossibly close to him, surrounded me with his body so I knew there was no chance for me to pull away, to withdraw into myself.

I felt myself still crying, but it was silent tears, the kind that you could never stop no matter how hard you tried.

“We’ll figure this out,” he said softly, his warm breath smelling faintly of whiskey and brushing along the shell of my ear. “We can get through everything, anything, lass.” He tightened his arms around me for a second.

I squeezed my eyes shut and lifted my hands to curl them around one of his thickly muscled forearms. I felt the scars on his flesh, warrior marks from him fighting, from his strength and power.

Then I thought of mine.

How can you find me beautiful?

I felt his muscles contract right before he whispered, “Ye’re beautiful. Ye’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.” He exhaled softly. “I’m no’ worthy to even look at ye, let alone have ye as my mate, but I’m too selfish tae ever let ye go.”

I didn’t realize I’d said the words out loud until he spoke, and it just made me cry harder, because I believed him. I may not have understood how or why he could see past all the things that tormented me on the outside, but his words were sincere, pulled from his heart with all the anguish that surrounded us.

“We’ll get through this,” he said again and harder this time, his voice sounding more determined, as if there were no other options.

He kissed the back of my head, and I closed my eyes.

“I hope so. I really, really hope so.”

Chapter

Seventeen

Larkin

I’d never seen so many massive males, ones who were double… triple my size. But I was surrounded by them now.

They seemed to keep coming, pouring out of massive, dark SUVs, their bodies clad in black, their expressions frightening.

There were so many Lycan males swarming over Odhran’s estate and outside on the property that it was overwhelming, so much so that I’d made myself scarce, and now found myself in the library running my fingers over the spines of the tattered and aged books.

I could hear the deep rumble of voices pouring through the walls, the words indescribable as they spoke Gaelic.

The plans for today were to go to my parents’ property. Whereas I thought we’d just be able to head out, after discussing it with Odhran, I didn’t want to just go on another journey without having plans in motion.

And although I knew Odhran would have followed me anywhere, done anything I’d asked, I did see the relief on his face that we’d make plans first. And I knew it was because he was worried about keeping me safe.

Although the Assembly wouldn’t be taken fully out for quite some time, after what Odhran had said, and overhearing him on the telephone with his king about all the things that had been set in motion to finally end that awful organization.

And I felt confident that it could actually happen. These men were fearsome and had their rage on their side backing them.

Species of the Otherworld were organizing and banding together; they were working as one unit to take out a common threat. I wasn’t old enough to know if this had ever been done before, but I was glad to see things were moving in that direction.

I randomly picked a book in English and walked over to the oversized, distressed leather chair that was positioned by the large window in the corner.

For a long time, I just rested my head on the chair and stared out the window. The sun was bright, the Highlands a glorious sight with the rolling green hills and the dots of fluff from the sheep I could see in the distance.

The woods were thick on three sides of the property, and I stared into the forest, the darkness stretching out the deeper it went back. A flock of birds got startled and flew overhead in a dark swarm, and I watched them swoop and turn in unison before flying off, the sound of their chirping fading.

The longer I sat there, the more I just took in the sights outside. It had been so long since I’d seen such open, natural beauty. And it was incredible.

I must’ve fallen asleep because I felt a light touch across my cheek, rousing me. I blinked my eyes open and stared out the window at the horizon that was painted orange and red pinks. The sun was setting, the dusky glow painting the grounds of Odhran’s estate as if an artist had rendered the image.

I turned my head and looked at my mate, who was crouched beside me, his blond hair ruffled and hanging over his forehead as if he’d been running his fingers through it from stress.

“I didn’t realize I slept so long,” I said with a sleepy voice. He didn’t respond, just kept staring at me so intently it was as if he saw every single part of me that I tried to hide.

Finally, he gave me a small smile as he stroked my cheek again. “I was having the most incredible dream,” I said, and thought back to right before I woke up.

He leaned in and brushed his lips against mine, the touch soft, tentative. But I was tired of being careful. I wanted him. I wanted to taste his flavor on my tongue, down the back of my throat. I want to feel him inside of me, his hands on my body, his lips at my throat. And I knew he could sense that, could smell my need for him; the arousal that was slick between my thighs would make it easy for him to work himself inside of me.

I felt myself flush as the memory of that erotic dream jumped to the forefront of my mind. I lifted my hand and placed it over his, which still rested on my cheek. I gently scraped my nails along the backs of his fingers, and his nostrils flared, his pupils dilating. I slowly licked my lips, and in that moment I felt nothing but the hazy cloud of sleep and arousal still clinging to me.

And the longer I stared at him, the more I wanted him, the more I wanted to stay in this moment and see how much it could grow.

“Did they all leave?” I breathed out those words, hoping he knew I meant all the Lycans that had shown up earlier today… hoping he knew why I was asking.

“Aye.” That one word was a husky growl from him. “I sent the staff home too. They’d prepared dinner but we are alone.”

Alone.

That thought, coupled with my desire from the dream, had me so wet between my legs that I clenched them together, and felt tingles race to the tips of my toes all the way to the top of my head.

“I have something for ye.” He stayed crouched on his haunches before me as he reached behind his neck. A second later, he was pulling his arm back around and holding out something in his hand, a gold chain hanging loosely over his fingers.

I was confused for just a second before he opened his hand, and I was staring at something I never thought I’d see again. Sitting delicately in the center of his big palm was the smallest piece of silver that had my heart lurching in my chest.

I lifted a hand to cover my mouth, so many emotions filling me. Was that actually… Could that really be…

“My necklace.” I lifted my focus to his face and saw he was intently watching me, his expression guarded. “How?” My hand slid down to curl gently around my throat as a memory of the last time I wore it played through my mind.

“After I’d woken up… after ye’d been taken…” He cleared his throat and looked down at the floor for a second as if he wanted to compose himself before continuing. “I saw it on the ground.” He looked into my eyes once more. “I picked it up and I’ve worn it ever since, telling myself I’d give it back to ye when ye were in my arms once more.” His jaw clenched as he looked back at me. “Then that bastard, the one called D, stole it from me after I was captured.” His nostrils flared and his anger saturated the air around him. “So I took it back right before tearing out his throat after we escaped.”

A soft, strangled sound left me at his words. He’d been wearing my anchor necklace this whole time.

“I would’ve given it tae ye right away, but with making sure ye were healed, then everything happening after, I didn’t want tae overwhelm ye.” He took each end of the necklace and held it up to me. I lifted the hair off my neck and shifted on the chair so he could clasp it around my throat.

His fingers gently brushed my nape, and once the necklace was secured, I looked down at the tiny anchor, the sun catching the curve of it. Tears flowed down my cheeks, and I was shocked that something so small and materialistic could mean so much.

I looked back at Odhran and smiled, knowing it was watery; not even caring that I could’ve started sobbing, I just broke right down in that moment. “You have no idea how much this means to me.” When I glanced back up at him, there was this gentle expression on his face. “I’m glad you waited to give it to me. I don’t think I would’ve been in the right mind frame earlier.”

He leaned in and kissed me, and I closed my eyes, just absorbing the wonderful feeling that consumed me.

“I know what the necklace meant tae me, so I can only imagine how special it is tae ye.”

I nodded but was too choked up to speak.

He sat back but still stayed close enough that I could smell the wild, spicy scent that always clung to him. He smelled faintly of the outside, of the forest and fresh air and lingering sunshine.

And the longer we looked at each other, the more my body started to heat all over again. I cupped each side of his scruff-covered cheeks, staring into his blue eyes. “It means the world to me. You mean everything to me.” Now it was his turn to have his breath catching.

We didn’t say anything for so long, both of us just watching each other, the heat in the room growing until I felt beads of perspiration dotting my temples and in between my breasts.

I expected that crushing weight of fear and uncertainty to claim me, but with each passing second all I felt was my growing need for my mate. And if I felt this kind of intensity, I could only imagine what a virile, powerful Lycan male was experiencing being close to his mate.

“Touch me, Odhran.” My voice was breathy, those three words barely audible. And I saw how they affected him. His body visibly tensed, his eyes became hooded, his mouth slightly clenched, and his canines elongated.

I grew even wetter.

He reached out and took hold of the end of my hair. I hadn’t taken out the braid he’d put in last night, and for a second, he just rubbed the strands between his fingers.

Touch me.

He started undoing my braid, and I felt my breathing increase. God, why is it so hot?

When my hair was loose, he started sifting his fingers through the dark waves before bringing up the heavy fall to his face. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, this very sexy, clearly aroused rumble leaving him.

My inner muscles clenched, and I tightened my thighs on impulse. I’d never felt so intensely that all rational thought left me.

I was very aware of my breathing having changed, my chest rising and falling faster and harder. I was also aware that his was, as well. He was so close now, inching his way toward me, only a fraction of space separating his lips from mine.

I could practically taste him on my tongue, the memory of how good his flavor was, how warm and soft his tongue was as it moved against mine, replaying in my head over and over again until a soft, very needy moan left me.

“My sweet girl,” he groaned. And then he said something gruff in Gaelic and it lit my body on fire.

He could’ve read me a shopping list in his native tongue and I was pretty sure I would’ve gone over the edge with pleasure from that alone.

“I donna want tae move too fast.” His eyes were open now but he still held my hair by his face, intermittently taking deep drags of the scent.

His pupils were so dilated now, the black almost ate up all of the blue, his eyes hooded, his very male scent filling my head and making me feel as if I had drunk too much.

“It’s not too fast right now.” I didn’t know what I was consenting to. A little? A lot? Everything?

He slid his hands down my arms, his fingers barely brushing the bare skin. I felt so dizzy despite the fact I was sitting down, my body feeling foreign, as if it weren’t my own, as if I had no control over anything, but in the best of ways.

But this was a kind of wild recklessness. The kind that didn’t make me question if there was fear or pain. Because I knew there wouldn’t be. I knew Odhran would only make me feel good, make this feel right.

“Kiss me.” I breathed those two words, and he groaned once more before he captured my mouth with his. He placed his hand on my cheek and slowly moved up to cup the back of my head. I tangled my hand in his hair and pulled him closer.

The feel of his tongue stroking over my lips, gently probing the seam as if asking permission, had me instantly opening for him. I met his tongue with mine, moved it against his, feeling my entire body ignite in the most consuming way. We kissed each other harder.

We kissed for so long that time had no meaning, everything else fading away so all I felt, smelled, heard was my mate.

His lips on mine.

His taste in my mouth.

His touch on my skin.

His groans in my ears.

I didn’t know how long we’d been kissing but I found myself at the edge of the seat, my legs spread and Odhran nestled between them. He had one hand still buried at the back of my head, his fingers tangled in my hair, his other one curled around my waist, his touch light.

I knew he was afraid of going further. I knew he was holding back. And although I appreciated it, right now there was a wild fire inside of me that only he could control.

“I want more,” I found myself whispering against his mouth, and broke away to pant. My face felt warm and I knew my cheeks were red, blood rushing under the skin as my arousal rose.

He didn’t speak but I felt his hand on my hip tighten, felt him push the edge of my shirt up slightly, his thumb brushing along the bare skin exposed. For a second, I was self-conscious and tried to rise, but as if he sensed it, he leaned in and kissed me passionately, deeply, really pushing his tongue into my mouth and controlling the situation.

I liked that because it took away the control I would have needed to show my pleasure, to go for what I wanted most… how far I wanted to go.

And I didn’t know how far I wanted to go, but I wanted to take this where it would go and stop naturally.

When I didn’t stop him from touching my bare flesh, he pushed my shirt up more and leaned his upper body against mine so I was forced to recline back on the chair, his huge chest covering me and blocking out everything else.

His touches and kisses were soft at first, but when I curled my hands around his shoulders, dug my nails into his flesh, he grunted and started kissing me harder, faster, his passion rising, his masculine scent surrounding me.

When he broke the kiss, I whimpered, barely able to keep my eyes open, my breasts feeling heavy and full, my nipples tight and pressing against the thin material of my shirt. I wanted his body pressed to mine once more, wanted his lips on mine, his hands touching more of my body.

I never wanted this high to end.

“The look on yer face,” he murmured, and kissed me once more, long and slow, sucking on my tongue for a second before pulling back again.

He looked down at where his hand was on my waist, and I followed his line of vision to see my shirt was now pushed fully up my body and rested right below my breasts. I felt a flush move through me as the light from the setting sun showed off all the scars that littered my belly, the raised white lines that dissected my flesh in startling clarity. Before I could push my shirt down, Odhran was leaning in and brushing his lips along those marks.

He kissed every single scar on my belly, whispered how beautiful I was, how perfect and special I was. Gaelic followed in deep, gruff words that had me relaxing against the chair once more so he could explore me with his mouth.

I moaned softly when he dragged his tongue around my belly button before gently dipping it inside, eliciting another needy sound from me.

He lifted just his eyes so he was staring at me, letting me watch as he continued to drag his tongue around my navel once more before going lower. Never breaking eye contact, he had his fingers at the waistband of my leggings, pausing. He was silently asking for my consent.

I licked my lips and nodded, not sure what I was doing, but knowing I didn’t want to stop.

Odhran made me feel so special, so beautiful. He didn’t see me as his mate that was scarred. He just saw me as his.

“Is this okay?” He murmured the question while he slowly pulled my pants down, still watching me, his movements slow.

I nodded again and lifted my body half up so he could pull my panties and leggings over my hips and down my thighs. I curled my fingers against the armrests of the chair, my nails digging into the buttery soft leather.

Once I was bare from the waist down, Odhran stared at me for long seconds.

“So gorgeous.” He looked down at my waist then back into my eyes. “I want tae really look at ye, lass.”

I knew what he was asking. The fact he wanted my consent for everything eased me even more, had any anxiety fading and only need filling me.

He was making these deep, wolf-like growls, and couldn’t close his mouth fully as his canines pressed to his lower lip. And then he was looking down between my thighs, my legs spread wide enough to accommodate his body fitted between them. The air seemed chillier now that his entire focus was trained on the most intimate part of me.

He spoke something deep and low and unintelligible, then lifted his hand and ran it over his mouth, his gaze never leaving that part of me.

“Foirf.” That lone word was a rumbled, muffled sound behind his hand. He slowly lowered his palm to drag his tongue over his lips. “Yer’re so pretty here.” He lifted his gaze and stared into my eyes as he slipped one hand down my inner thigh to stop right where my leg and pussy met. “Tha mo ghion ort.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, but don’t stop,” I gasped. “Even if you’re telling me the weather… don’t stop.” The feel of his hands on my thighs had a little sound of awareness leaving me. He slowly ran his palms up and down my legs as he stared between my thighs once more.

“Will ye let me taste ye, Larkin?”

I bit my lip and felt my eyes widen. He wanted his mouth… down there?

“I bet ye’re so sweet, so silky and soft. I can already taste yer flavor on my tongue, darlin’.” He moved in a little closer and I felt how hard he was, his erection thick and long and tenting his jeans.

I looked down and stared at that huge, male part of him. His length was so long I swore it would never fit, so girthy my fingers would never touch if I wrapped them around him.

I’d never be able to take all of him inside of me.

“Let me taste ye, my wee female.”

I snapped my gaze back to his face and found myself nodding before I knew what I was doing.

He groaned and looked between my legs again. “Look at how wet my mate gets at the thought of my mouth on her.” He sounded like he spoke to himself. He shifted lower so I could feel his warm breath. “Ask me, Larkin,” he pleaded. “Ask me tae taste ye so I know ye’re right here with me, lass.”

I closed my eyes and licked my lips, and when I opened them again the words were spilling from me. “I want your mouth on me. I want you to be the first—the only—male to ever taste me.”

His entire body froze for a suspended second before an inhuman sound left him and his eyes flashed blue. I felt myself get wetter knowing that his wolf was right here, would experience this moment too. He was part of Odhran. He was Odhran.

Both of them were my mate.

And then he was moving closer and inhaling deeply as his lips were right by my pussy. I couldn’t move for long seconds as the strange, unusual sensations of having a mouth down there filled me.

But he didn’t rush me, didn’t devour me. He was slow, meticulous even as he slid his hands along my inner thighs and framed that very feminine part of me. And when I felt that first touch of his tongue along my clit, I let my head fall all the way back and rest on the leather as my eyes slid shut. Any strangeness vanished as pleasure took its place.

Any discomfort about how I looked dissipated when he flattened his tongue and dragged it from my opening up to my clit.

And when he sucked on that tiny bundle of nerves, growled against it so the vibrations speared through me and had my inner muscles clenching, I found my hands in his hair as I held on.

I was shamelessly moaning as he licked and sucked at me, not hard or forcefully, just an easy introduction to what this was, how intimate a moment we shared. Without missing a beat, he lifted one of my legs and wrapped it over the arm of the chair, then did the same to the other.

I was so spread now, my legs open and stretched, his mouth never leaving my pussy. He was growling, his grunt and groans low as he teased my opening with the tip of his tongue before sliding it back and sucking my clit into his mouth.

“My Larkin… ye’re so soft. Like a peach. But sweeter.” He went back to sucking and licking at me, and I felt something building inside of me, something strong and monumental that kept rising to the surface. I knew it would spill over, explode, just erupt from me and take any kind of sanity that I still clung to.

As if he knew I was close to that precipice of… something, he looked into my eyes and renewed his efforts, sucking harder, licking more thoroughly. His hands were on my inner thighs, keeping them spread even though I was already as wide as I could go, the muscles of my inner thighs protesting from being this open.

“Keep looking at me,” he growled in a distorted voice, his eyes glowing blue from his inner animal. I could barely keep my eyes open as the pleasure kept increasing.

He sucked on my clit hard, slid his hands down to frame my pussy once more, then hooked his thumbs on either side of my lips and pulled them apart.

My mouth opened on a soundless cry as I watched him suck on that bundle of nerves, listened to the wet, sloppy sounds of him devouring me between my thighs.

My eyes started to close on their own.

“Watch me, lass. Look intae my face as I make ye come.”

I visibly shivered at his deep command, unable to deny myself or him. Unable to disobey him. And then those vibrations from his voice, and the hard sucking of his mouth on my clit, had me exploding.

The feelings were so profound they didn’t seem real, as if I were trapped in a dream I never wanted to wake from.

I could hear these animalistic sounds leaving him, the vibrations of his voice making the pleasure endless. Somehow I found my hands back in his hair, tugging at the strands, keeping his face between my thighs. He seemed so tense, his body visibly shaking, his voice a hoarse shout against my soft folds.

And then when I was too sated to hold my limbs up any longer, I let my arms fall to my sides, let my legs relax, and rested my head back on the chair as I closed my eyes and just breathed in and out harshly.

For long moments, neither one of us moved or said anything, but then I felt the lightest brush of his lips on my inner thigh, then another kiss, and another. He peppered me with them, his warm breath a balm to my over-sensitized flesh. And when I sighed in contentment, he rested his forehead against my inner leg and just panted.

I stroked my fingers through his short, but thick dark-blond hair, gently skimming my nails over his scalp and seeing his big body tremble. He lifted his head and looked at me, this hooded expression in his eyes, and I felt so dizzy with this post-euphoric haze, that all I could manage was a small smile.

“Mine,” he growled in that distorted voice, the blue of his eyes glowing brighter. He dragged his tongue along his bottom lip then his top one, humming in pleasure. “Never have I tasted anything as sweet as my mate’s orgasm.”

He was rising up and cupping my jaw as he leaned and slanted his mouth on mine, making me taste my climax on his lips and tongue. He kissed me for a long moment before straightening. My gaze, now immediately eye level with his groin, took in his semi-hard erection and the wet spot on the front of his jeans.

Heat and pleasure washed through me again. He orgasmed while giving me one.

“Ye see what ye do tae me, lass?”

I looked up but didn’t respond. I could see very, very well the effect I had on him. And it gave me a sense of power and strength I didn’t know I could feel. I could give this male—so strong and big and powerful—pleasure by just touching his hair… with him bringing me pleasure.

He held out his hand and helped me to stand, helped me adjust my clothing, then kissed me softly, almost reluctantly before pulling me in close and leading me out of the room and down the hall to the dining room, where dinner waited.

I glanced up at his face, at his strong jaw and perfectly male features, and felt a genuine smile move across my face.

He’d stripped me bare, made me feel raw in every possible way. And for the first time in far longer than I could remember, I felt no thoughts of my past trying to ruin this moment. I felt nothing but hope.

It was enough to have me choke up with emotion.

Maybe things would be okay? Maybe we could have our happily ever after?

Chapter

Eighteen

Odhran

I was ashamed to admit I’d had to jerk off twice last night after Larkin fell asleep, my body still humming after what she’d let me do to her in the library.

I ran my tongue over my bottom lip, remembering how soft she’d been against my lips, how sweet she’d tasted down my throat.

I pushed those thoughts to the dark recesses of my mind as I focused on taking the narrow road to our destination. But the throbbing of my stiff cock made it almost impossible to think of anything else.

The need to mate with her, to mark and claim her, ran so hard in me that with each passing second it was getting difficult to concentrate.

I’d managed the need to claim my mate for all these decades to focus on one thing. Finding her. Getting her back. And killing the bastards who had taken her.

And although the fuckers who’d hurt her were and would be taken care of, Banner and Adryan and many factions of the Otherworld making sure they were no longer a threat, all I could focus on was making my wee female feel good. Making her happy and helping to keep her demons at bay.

I glanced over and saw her focus was out the passenger side window. I reached down and adjusted my cock, nearly groaning as sparks of pleasure shot through me just from that small touch.

I was also ashamed to admit that I’d actually orgasmed like some lad after eating her out, unable to control myself so that I’d shot my load right in my jeans as I felt her tug on my hair and tasted her climax on my tongue and down my throat.

And my wolf, the greedy bastard, refused to back down, refused to submit. He was so close to the surface, pacing, scratching me from the inside out, that I couldn’t help being partially shifted.

My nails were claws, canines elongated. I was bigger than when I was in human form, my eyes shifting back and forth from glowing blue to my normal color.

I knew he was just as anxious as I was to be with Larkin; despite his impatience, my human side was still stronger, still able to keep him back.

She needed time to understand this new world, much more time to come to terms with everything, to heal from the inside out before she could even contemplate being fully mated.

And I’d give her as much as she needed. A lifetime. Eternity.

She was here, with me, and that was all that mattered.

Maybe I need to fight in the Guard, go a few brutal rounds with some of the Lycan spiders, maybe even Cian since he could match my strength and savagery blow-by-blow.

Maybe I needed a run in the woods. Maybe I just needed to get so drunk I blacked out.

But I could never do any of those, could never leave her unprotected in any way. I was the only one who could fully keep her safe, and the very thought of being so out of it, of having to leave her while I shifted into my beast form and ran this energy out, had panic swelling in me.

I glanced at her once more and looked at her profile, reminded of how lucky I was, even if I would never deserve her, never be good enough for her.

“Are you okay?”

I’d been so lost in my thoughts that her soft voice startled me, and I looked over, seeing an inquisitive expression on her face.

“I’m okay, darlin’.” Her brows furrowed, and I focused on the road again, my cock throbbing the longer she stared at me. I curled my hands tightly around the steering wheel, hearing the leather creak.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what I wanted to do to her. With her. What I wanted her to do to me. I clenched my jaw and forced the growl that would’ve spilled through to stay in place.

“You seem pretty agitated. In fact,” she said softly, and I glanced at my groin. Her cheeks turned pink and she looked down at her lap, at her hands that were folded together. “You’ve been a little… off since the library.” She whispered the last part.

I groaned then, my cock jerking, throbbing. Just hearing her talk about what she’d let me do to her, and smelling her arousal start to fill the interior of the car, had heat rushing through my body.

The memory of her coming for me, on my tongue and down the back of my throat, nearly had me orgasming right in my jeans again.

I couldn’t keep my wolf at bay as I growled out, “Tae know ye’re thinking about what we did last night, what I did tae ye, how I had my mouth between yer thighs and licked ye until ye came…” I tightened my hands so hard around the steering wheel I feared I’d crack the fucking thing. “It’s hard tae control my need for ye.” Her breath caught on that last part. “But I’ll never hurt ye. I’ll never rush ye or force ye tae do anything ye’re no’ comfortable with—”

“I know,” she said softly. “I know you’d never hurt me.”

I exhaled at hearing her confirm that.

The scent of her arousal grew, and I glanced at her, unable to help myself. Her lips were slightly parted as she stared straight ahead, her hands now gripping the edge of her shirt, her knuckles white. She worried her plump bottom lip with her straight white teeth, and I nearly groaned again.

I inhaled deeply, smelling how wet she was between her thighs, and couldn’t help but picture how pink and soft she’d been as I stared at her pussy right before I ate her out.

A slow and feral smile spread across my face as my wolf pushed forward even more.

And I wanted to do that again, and again and again. I was surprised I was even able to still drive. My cock throbbing, my balls so heavy and drawn up tight against my body that even the jostling of the SUV was torture.

What I wanted to do was pull over on the side of the road, haul her slight body on top of mine, and kiss her until she was breathless and clutching me.

I looked in the rearview mirror at the SUV following behind us, the vehicle full of Lycans trailing close by as we headed toward her family’s property.

Although I was confident in my prowess and strength to protect Larkin, I wasn’t going to take any chances. Not ever again. I’d forever have sentries protecting the property. I’d always have someone watching over her if I wasn’t there. I had guilt that would never leave me. It was a scar inside of me, deep and jagged, forever aching.

I reached across the console and took her hand in mine, her palm so much smaller, fitting perfectly in my hold. We were silent for the rest of the trip, and I left the music on low. My girl was a fan of classic rock, one of the decades she’d missed because she was living a nightmare.

We’d been driving for hours by the time we finally reached her family’s property, or what once was where her family lived.

I could feel the anxiety start to pour from her. She recognized her surroundings. She knew her family wasn’t in this world anymore, long since passed. I tried to tell her before, but she didn’t need to hear the words to know that she was now the only living heir in her line.

But I still sensed her sliver of hope that she was wrong.

I pulled off to the small strip of dirt road and left the car idling as I climbed out. The large gate that blocked the entry had a No Trespassing sign hanging in front of it.

After unlatching it and pulling the metal gate open, I signaled for the other SUV to hang back. I knew Larkin would want this moment to be private, sacred.

Once back in the SUV, I drove the winding narrow road, the creek that ran parallel with the road seeming to take up my girl’s attention.

“Do you think whoever owns this land now will be upset that we’re trespassing?” Her voice was soft, distant.

“No, but even if they were, it would no’ matter. I’m still taking my mate to where she needs tae go.”

I loved the little smile that curved her lips after I said that, and chuckled softly when she rolled down the window despite the chill in the air. I knew she wanted to scent the freshness in the air and wanted to recall memories of her childhood.

And I wanted to give them all to her. I wanted to help her unlock all she’d missed, all that had been stolen from her.

I wanted to give her new memories, new experiences. And I wanted to be there the entire time to watch the wonder and pleasure on her face as she realized over and over again she was really free and nothing would ever harm her again.

The wind blew her hair over her shoulders and across her back. Her sweet, addicting scent, already saturating the interior of the car, became even more potent.

And thank fuck we reached the property at that time, or I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from reaching out and touching her.

I pulled to a stop, cut the engine, and when I got another concentrated dose of the lavender that clung to her hair and skin, a low growl left me.

I watched for a suspended moment as she looked through the front windshield at the vast countryside. I knew she could see the edge of the lake on the property, the rolling hills, the green meadows, the towering trees. I was sure it looked different now, more lush, slightly overgrown. Although the property had been taken care of over the years, it hadn’t been occupied since her parents passed away decades before.

“It looks the same but… It doesn’t.” Her voice was soft and she glanced over at me, biting her bottom lip again, her nervousness clear across her face.

I let her set the pace, sat there silently until she was ready to get out of the vehicle, and only then did I follow.

I stayed close to her, curling my fingers into my palms so I didn’t reach out and touch her, didn’t take away from this moment where she explored and let her mind and emotions open up fully.

It was a wonderful thing to see, a wondrous thing to experience with her. And I couldn’t take my focus off her face.

Because although we were surrounded by the beauty that only nature could create, I was staring at perfection.

We walked in silence side by side for long moments as she took everything in. I watched her expression transform from happiness to sorrow to a deep melancholy.

Finally we made it to her childhood home. The small cottage was built against the side of a sprawling hill, the overhang covered with moss and flowers, the wood siding weathered, the glass of the windows foggy from age.

“I can’t believe they kept it here all these years.” Her voice was nothing but a whisper as she stared wide-eyed at the place she once called home.

I took a step back when she took one forward and watched as she lifted her hand to run her fingers over the curved doorknob, the metal weathered and oxidized.

She glanced over her shoulder at me, and there was so much rawness in her expression it was like a knife in my chest.

I gave her a reassuring smile and inclined my head for her to enter. And when the knob turned and her eyes widened that entering was as simple as that, a rush of emotion filled me.

I hadn’t told her yet, hadn’t told her the truth about the property and what it meant now.

She entered and a small gasp left her. I followed inside, the interior slightly illuminated from the filtering sunlight that came through the windows, dust particles floating in the air as we made our way deeper inside the cottage.

“It’s the same,” she said with this wonder in voice. “It looks exactly how it did when I lived here.” She looked over at me with wide eyes, her hands held out, her palms upward. “I don’t understand. How?” She glanced around again and started touching everything. The small bookshelf that lined one wall, the hand-carved dining room table, the wooden rocking chair that sat beside the hearth.

“After ye were taken, I went tae yer parents, explained everything, and told them what happened.”

She’d gone silent and still then, her hand covering her mouth as she listened to me confess.

“I was ashamed that I was unable tae protect ye. I wanted tae let them know how I failed ye—”

“You didn’t fail me,” she said right away.

I shook my head as my mind was carried back to the past, then I lifted my hand and scrubbed it over my face. I remembered that day I confronted her family as if it were yesterday. I remembered the pain in her father’s eyes, how her mother had cried, clutching at her mate.

“I expected them tae want tae kill me. I would no’ have fought back. I would’ve deserved it. But they humbled me, shocked me as they came and embraced me, wrapped their arms around me and said they believed that I would find ye again, bring ye home.”

“I made them a promise that I would find ye, that I would no’ stop until ye were safe.” I looked over at her again and saw she was crying. I was in front of her a second later, brushing away her tears and leaning down to kiss the crown of her head. “Ah, my soft-hearted lass.” I kissed every inch of her face until her crying lessened. “If it’s any consolation, yer parents passed naturally in the warmth of their bed within days of each other.”

She nodded and gave me a watery smile.

“After they passed and the property went up for sale, I outbid anyone who tried tae purchase it.”

“You… you bought my family’s property?”

I nodded and pulled her in close. She rested her head on my chest, and I closed my eyes at how perfect and right it felt to hold her like this.

“I bought it for ye, so ye had a place to come and remember and feel happy. It took me too long, but I made good on that promise to them, lass.” I pulled back and cupped her face. “Now I just have tae make things right between us, and show ye that ye’ll never have tae worry about yer safety again.”

I kissed her protest away, pulling her in closer and dragging my tongue along the seam of her mouth, urging her to open. And when she did, I plunged inside, my cock hardening, my wolf rising, and everything else fading away.

I found myself lifting her up until I could press her against the side of the hill. I didn’t want to be disrespectful and devour her inside her family’s home, but I also couldn’t stop myself right now.

“Odhran,” she moaned.

I broke the kiss to move my lips down her jaw, over her neck, and latch on to the soft skin where her throat and neck met. My canines throbbed, my mouth watered, and I sucked and licked at her skin, desperately wanting to sink my teeth into her and give her my mark.

I ground myself against her belly, loving that she gripped my biceps and dug her nails into my flesh, causing a sting of pain that had me grunting in pleasure. I sucked hard on her flesh, knowing if I couldn’t pierce her with my teeth at least I’d leave a bruise that would visibly show the world she was mine.

We were both panting by the time I pulled back, and as I stared at the bruising I’d given her tender neck, my cock jerked behind my zipper.

I dragged my tongue across the bruise, feeling her shiver, and then a second later the air changed around her, her body becoming tight. I gave the side of her neck a gentle kiss before pulling back and moving my thumb over her pulse point as I stared into her eyes. I willed her to calm, letting her feel with my touch and the look in my eyes that she had control.

“Stay with me, baby. Stay right here with me and let me make ye feel good.”

She panted, licked her lips, and after a second her body relaxed. When she nodded, I still gave her long seconds to gather herself. I’d never pressure her, never push her when she wasn’t one hundred percent with me at this moment.

So when she relaxed and I smelled her anxiety fade as her desire rose once more, only then did I sink to my knees, gathered the hem of her skirt, and while staring into her eyes to gauge her reaction, slowly started to push it up her lithe body.

“Is this okay?” My body was humming with pleasure, and when she nodded, I pushed her skirt farther up, bunching it around her waist.

As if she read my mind, she reached down and gathered the material in her hands, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the skirting fiercely. I could smell how wet she was, and I’d never scented anything as sweet and addicting as the nectar that spilled from between Larkin’s thighs.

And I knew I’d never taste anything as intoxicating as the honey that I’d drink from the source, groaning as it slid down my throat. I closed my eyes, and I rested my forehead against her bare belly, the panties she wore plain white cotton but so fucking arousing that my cock jerked again.

For long seconds, I just stayed on my knees with my head against her belly, my eyes closed, and dragged in deep breaths of her scent. I reached down and curled my fingers around the heavy length of my cock, stroking myself through the denim. Up and down. Up and down.

She was trembling against me, and I wrapped my hands around her waist, dragged my fingers over the sides of her ribs, my movements slow as I curled them inward until I was cupping her breasts.

Oh gods, I felt pre-cum spill from the tip of my cock, soaking my jeans.

The bra she wore was white and damn near transparent, her nipples beaded up tightly and pressed against the material. There were so many things I wanted to do to her, so much I wanted, so much pleasure I wanted to give her.

But I had to remind myself to go slow, to get her accustomed to my touch and the sensations she felt.

So when she didn’t tense, didn’t push me away, I moved my thumbs over the peaks, making them harder, drawing out a soft moan from her.

I kissed her belly, dragged my tongue around her navel, and moved my mouth lower until I could hook my teeth around the edge of her panties.

“My lass,” I groaned. “I could have my face buried between yer thighs, my tongue memorizing yer body, tasting yer orgasm on my tongue and sliding down my throat, for the rest of my fooking life.”

She gasped, and I knew my words were lewd, vulgar. But I couldn’t help it.

I kept dragging my tongue over the soft skin of her belly and when I felt her hands, which were in my hair, tighten against my scalp, I stilled and glanced up at her.

For a long moment, she breathed harshly as she stared at me, and slowly the tightening of her fingers on my scalp eased. I saw something flicker over her face, an expression that had my heart racing even more and my cock throbbing.

“I think…” She licked her lips. “I think I’d like to explore you this time.”

Jesus Christ.

My girl wanted to touch me, to learn my body? I clenched my jaw when my wolf rose up, very much pleased with that thought.

It took a great deal of self-control to slowly stand and not crush her body to mine as I fucked her mouth with my lips and tongue.

I shifted around so my back was now pressed to the hill; my hands dug into the soft earth, dirt embedding underneath my nails as I felt my claws grow even more.

She stood only a foot from me, her eyes big and blue, wide as she gazed up at me. And a low moan of pleasure left me when I watched her gaze move up and down my body.

I wanted to be naked for her, to show her what I had to offer, to let her see every single part of me. I wanted her to see my scars, the journey I’d taken to find her that was now written on my body. I wanted her to touch those battle wounds, those raised lines, so she’d memorize them as I had done with every aspect of her.

She was breathing so heavily, and I feared she’d pass out. She reached out and gripped the edge of my shirt, causing my muscles to contract and my body to freeze.

I was a statue, and she pushed the material up, revealing my abdomen. She wet her lips and I nearly groaned at the sight.

“I’m not reacting like this because I’m scared,” she whispered, and slowly trailed her gaze up my stomach and looked into my eyes. “I’m reacting like this because I anticipate exploring you, Odhran.”

I dug my nails further into the earth behind me and clenched my jaw. Gods, she was so beautiful, especially when she took the initiative and showed her strength, when she didn’t let her fear rule her.

When she became as strong as I knew she was. I could see the fire behind her eyes, the desire swirling around her.

I stood there for long moments as she explored me, trailing her fingers over the bare skin of my abdomen, letting the pads move over the hills and ridges of my muscles.

She traced the lines of my scars, her breathing picking up, her pupils dilating fully. “So many,” she murmured and glanced at me. “Like me.”

I swallowed roughly as I heard a mixture of her awe and sadness. “Fighting, waging war and battles was all I could focus on when I wasn’t out searching for ye.”

She held her hand right over my heart and stared into my face.

“Vengeance ran through my blood, and I used my rage tae become a machine. I killed, maimed, and hurt. I wanted everyone and everything tae feel what I did. I wanted my inner pain tae be mirrored outside for all tae see and feel.

“After I lost ye, violence and aggression were the only things that made me feel… alive. And so I immersed myself in it. Because feeling that anger was a hell of a lot more welcome than experiencing the bone-crushing loss of no’ having ye in my life.”

“Oh… my Odhran.” She leaned in and kissed me. It wasn’t a sexually laced one, but a slow and thorough one that was meant to comfort but still had the effect of making my cock jerk and the front of my jeans to become wet with pre-cum.

And soon that kiss turned deeper until we were both groaning by the time she pulled away.

“I don’t know anything about this,” she whispered. “But I want to make you feel as good as you made me.”

I clenched my jaw and forced myself not to come from those words alone. She had to rise on her toes to trail her lips along my cheek, over my jawbone, and peppered her lips across my throat. I rested my head back against the earth, refusing to close my eyes because I didn’t want to look away from her.

She gently scraped her nails down my sides, and my skin tightened. When I lifted my head, her expression had my breath being sucked from my lungs. She looked heavily aroused, drugged with her pleasure. Her eyes were at half-mast, her cheeks pink, her bottom lip red because she couldn’t stop biting it.

I could see her nipples stabbing through the thin material of her shirt, and I could smell the wetness of her pussy coating the air between us. I wanted to touch her, but I kept my hands in place, refusing to take anything away from this moment for her.

When her hands got to the top of my jeans, I held my breath, staring into her ocean-blue eyes, feeling adrift and free falling at the very sight of her.

She unbuttoned my pants, gripped the zipper, and pulled down slowly. I could feel her hands shaking as she fumbled slightly, but I didn’t move, didn’t speak.

Fuck, I didn’t even breathe. My cock was throbbing behind the denim, creating its own pulse, the heavy, thick length springing free from the confines of my pants as soon as she pulled the two halves open.

My neck felt tight, my jaw so clenched I feared I cracked my teeth as the chilled air touched my bare cock.

She was so close I felt her body heat, could feel the brush of her skirting moving along my erection. My wolf howled inside.

I felt pre-cum dripping off the tip and sliding down the underside of my shaft.

And when she licked her lips and glanced down, the image of her on her knees as she took me into her mouth was almost my undoing.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she whispered in this ultra-hesitant voice.

“My girl,” I groaned as I felt her hands on my lower abdomen, felt the heat from her palm and fingers so close to my cock. “You could just look at me and I’d have an orgasm.” I didn’t mean to be so crude, but when her pupils dilated even more and the scent of her desire rose another notch, all I wanted to do was strip her bare, lay her on the forest floor, and drag my tongue over every single inch of her bare body.

She glanced down and I held my breath, letting her look her fill, letting her see every single part of me.

“It’s big.” I didn’t know if she meant to say that out loud, but the sound of her voice and her commenting on my size had my cock physically jerking.

“Lass, ye sure know how tae stroke a male’s ego.” For fook’s sake. I’d actually said that. Stroke. Stroking. Her hand on me as she moved her tiny palm up and down my length.

I grunted and breathed out harshly at where my thoughts went.

And when she wrapped her hand around my length, I hissed. My wolf rose, and I felt the change start to come over me. The soft sound she made was a mixture of surprise and pleasure.

My beast pushed for supremacy, and right now I wasn’t strong enough to stop him fully. My body became bigger, my muscles stronger. My skin was tight, seconds away from tearing and becoming fur. But my human side was still reigning supreme as I kept him at bay.

“You’re so heavy and hot… so hard in my hand. I can’t wrap my fingers fully around you.”

I groaned painfully and squeezed my eyes shut as her words made it difficult to keep any kind of control. And when she stroked me from root to tip, smearing the copious amounts of pre-cum along the tip and drawing more out, I snapped my eyes open and looked at her.

“Kiss me, lass, because I’m about tae come.”

Her eyes widened and her mouth parted, but she rose on her toes and gave me what I wanted.

I speared a hand in her hair and kept her mouth pressed to mine as I licked and sucked at her lips and tongue. Her hand on my cock was hesitant at first, slow and unsure. But I encouraged her to keep going with my moans, and by thrusting into her palm, spurring her on.

“Gods, yes, baby. Ye’re making me feel so good. Ye’re driving me crazy with need.”

She moaned softly, and I let my forehead fall to her shoulder as I closed my eyes and fucked myself in her palm. “Does it feel good?”

I grunted and picked up my pace, thrusting my hips faster into her hold. “It feels so fooking good. Ye’re going tae make me come, darlin’. Gods, I’m so close. I’m so close already, and it’s because ye’re so perfect, ye’re doing well.”

Her hand was so warm, her skin so soft, her palm so small wrapped tightly around me.

“Ahhh,” I grunted, and started thrusting faster, pre-cum a constant drip out of the crown of my erection, covering her hand, making her strokes slick and slippery. “So close,” I said in a distorted, gruff voice. “My girl,” my wolf growled out and I lifted my head to look into her eyes. I couldn’t control my animal as he pushed and gained supremacy. I was growling in Gaelic, praising her for how she was mine, how I’d never let her go. “My Larkin. That’s it. Yes,” my wolf hissed, and she widened her eyes and moaned.

I was now pushed back, my human side nothing but a voyeur as my animal took center stage and experienced this pleasure firsthand.

“My Larkin,” my beast grunted again, and when she twisted her palm and moved it over the crown of my shaft, I couldn’t control myself.

I came violently, my entire body shaking from the force.

I roared out, my head tipped back, my eyes squeezed tight, but I forced myself to open them again so I could look down at where she still gripped me. I orgasmed so hard, my cum shot out of me in thick, white arcs and covered the back of her hand and splattered against her shirt and skirt.

I should have felt embarrassed there was so much seed that she’d smell like me so heavily, even without my mark on her throat, all would know she was mine.

“Mine.”

And at the thought of making her mine, my mouth watered, my canines ached, and my gaze latched on to her throat as my climax went on and on until I couldn’t see straight.

When she drained my balls dry, I sagged against my female and breathed out harshly, never before feeling so sated, so completed or pleasured.

Hell, if this is how she makes me feel and I haven’t even claimed her yet, I will no’ survive when I actually take my female for the first time.

I wrapped my arms around her and crushed her to me. “I love ye, lass. I love ye more than anything else. I will never be able tae survive without ye.”

Truer words had never been spoken before.

Chapter

Nineteen

Larkin

I woke up with a start, sweat beading my brow, tears streaming down my cheeks. I clutched my shirt, my heart racing, a strangled gasp leaving me.

For a second, I didn’t know where I was, still trapped in my dream. It had been a horror reel through my mind, starting off with happy memories, ones that made me feel warm and good and brought me back to the past where there were no tormentors or pain or sadness.

I closed my eyes tightly, squeezing them as I tightened my fingers around the shirt. I could feel my pulse beating so hard it was painful. I was vaguely aware of my name being called but it sounded like waves in my ears, rushing back and forth.

“Larkin.”

I heard my name being called.

“Don’t wander too far.”

It was my mother’s voice. I was little, ten years old and so full of curiosity that I knew it was hell on my parents because they had to constantly watch over me.

“Larkin.”

I squeezed my eyes shut tighter as I pictured my sister. She was grinning at me from the front door, her finger to her mouth as she silently told me she wouldn’t tell our mother that I was getting my new dress all dirty.

The reel changed in my mind. I was now a grown woman sitting around the table with my family. It was after my sister had passed. The sadness was a heavy weight surrounding us.

The scene flickered once more, years later.

I sat by the lake, my feet in the water. I felt the strength and power of the waves move through me. I could hear my mother and father in the meadow beside me, laughing, my father telling my mother how beautiful she was.

And then the last image that slammed into my head was the first time I met Odhran, when we were ripped away from each other.

“Larkin.”

It was Odhran’s voice now, surrounding me, a panicked tone that had me rushing back to the present, a cold sweat covering me. I turned my head and looked at him. We were in the bedroom. In bed. Together and safe.

His brows were pulled low, his eyes taking on a wild cast. He was breathing hard, his chest rising and falling hard and fast.

“Tha mo ghion ort.” He sounded so anguished as he pulled me into his arms. “I love ye with all my heart.”

I wrapped my arms around his chest and screamed inside. I was frustrated and scared and hated this, not only for me but for Odhran too.

“I knew they were gone years ago. I knew this and had accepted it long ago. But to face that reality, to go back to my home, it tore open wounds that had been healed and scarred over.”

He started murmuring in Gaelic and then switched to English. “I’m sorry I took ye there. I dinna know. I dinna know.”

I was shaking my head, stopping him from going further.

I pulled back and looked into his face. He lifted his hand and ran his thumbs over my cheeks, wiping away the tears. “I needed to see that stuff, needed to see my childhood home. I needed that closure. Thank you for taking me.”

And then he pulled me into his embrace, leaned back on the bed so I was now draped over his big body, and held me the rest of the night.

Chapter

Twenty

Larkin

When you’re happy, time moves by quickly, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had been this happy. No, that wasn’t true. I remembered what this felt like, but I hadn’t felt this way for a very long time. Years. Decades since I’d spent time with my family, told stories around the hearth, and explored the wildlife that surrounded our cottage.

But the kind of pleasure I found with Odhran wasn’t just on the physical level. It was also about the quiet solitude we found as we made dinner together, or sat in front of the fire and read or just talked.

The days blurred together, and I found that weeks passed before I even realized time had gone by so quickly. And with each passing moment, I became more and more comfortable with my surroundings and the situation.

We got to know each other’s likes and dislikes, learned about the other’s idiosyncrasies, what we feared and what we dreamed about.

We took walks on the property, long hours just moving through the Highlands and taking in the trees and animals, smelling the scents and feeling… free. I should’ve felt a little bit embarrassed at the fact that whenever we took those walks, I would stop constantly, just closing my eyes and tilting my head back, inhaling the fresh air and feeling the sun on my face.

But every time I looked at Odhran—feeling a little sheepish—there was always a soft smile on his face and this loving look in his eyes. I knew without him having to tell me that he took great pleasure in seeing these reactions in me.

My pleasure was his.

And then he’d cup my cheek and say in that gruff Scottish brogue of his, “Gods, ye’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.”

I blushed every time I thought about it.

Every night we bathed together, Odhran washing my hair with gentle touches, soothing fingers. He lathered my body with soaps and oils until I was pliant and soft against him, and those relaxing touches would always turn into something more.

He’d bring me to orgasm in the bathtub, my back against his chest, me lying between his thighs, his hand between my legs as he stroked me to climax.

His cock would always be a hard, thick rod pressing to my lower back, and I wouldn’t have to do anything but come for him, moan out his name and then he’d orgasm without even a touch, the hot feeling of his semen coating my skin and getting me off again.

I glanced at myself in the mirror, not fully recognizing the female who stared back at me. The last few weeks of staying with Odhran, isolated in this Scottish retreat, had done wonders for me. He kept the strangers at bay, with only a handful of staff here in the morning before they left in the afternoon, allowing us to have private time the rest of the day.

We held each other and just talked about nothing in particular. And I treasured those slices of comfortable solace as we learned of each other. And during those quiet talks he’d feed me from his hand, insisting I just have “one more bite.”

I gained weight, had a more lustrous glow to my skin; my hair was fuller and looked less limp and lifeless. My cheeks were constantly flushed, not just from the happiness I felt and being well taken care of, but also from the copious amounts of pleasure I felt at living life.

We still hadn’t consummated the relationship, and I knew his wolf was growing restless. I knew enough about Lycans and fated mates that with each passing day his need for me would grow until it was uncomfortable, unbearable. But he never rushed me, never pressured me.

But every time the heat consumed me, every time I wanted to go further, my body seized up; my emotions and the trauma of my past betrayed me. And Odhran never complained, never acted put-off. He’d just hold me, stroke my hair, and tell me I was perfect, that he loved me.

Gods, did he love me. He told me daily, every time he saw me. He used “I love you” as a comma when he told me how he felt. He made sure I fully knew without a shadow of a doubt where he stood where I was concerned.

The girl looked back at me and smiled, the bags under her eyes and dark circles gone, the blueness of her irises shining brighter than they ever had.

I smoothed my hands down the outfit I picked for tonight. Odhran was taking me out, our first official “date.”

And tonight, he was taking me to something called “the movie theater.”

Although I was a little apprehensive that we would be going into town, I was also anticipating exploring my new home.

The place I used to live with my family would always hold a very special place in my heart, but my home was where my mate was, where Odhran was.

I left the bathroom and headed out of the room and down the stairs. I could see Odhran waiting by the front door, his hands in the front pockets of his dark slacks, his button-up fitting his broad shoulders and tapered waist to perfection.

He was such a large male, so big and strong, but even in civilized clothing, his air of wild and feral intensity couldn’t be tamed.

He was pacing, as if he were the one who was nervous, but as if he sensed me, he stopped and looked over, his nostrils flaring instantly, his gaze moving up and down my body.

For our date tonight I’d chosen a buttery soft cardigan set in a deep emerald green, and dark jeans that molded to my new fuller form.

“Oh. Sweetheart.” He ran a hand over his mouth as he kept eyeing me up and down. “Lass… I donna… I donna know what tae say. Ye’ve made me speechless.”

I felt my face heat and lifted my hands to place them on my cheeks, feeling my ultra-warm skin. I continued to descend the stairs and stopped in front of him. He held his hand out for me and I slipped my palm into his, letting him pull me against the hardness of his body.

He moved his hands over my upper arms, over my shoulders, and cupped either side of my throat, his thumbs coming to rest right over my pulse points. He swept the pads back and forth, and I felt myself instantly relaxing, heating… becoming aroused.

And he knew it, the perceptive male that he was knew how wet I was.

He leaned in so his mouth was right by my ear and breathed out huskily, “We could always stay in tonight?”

I closed my eyes and shivered, very tempted to agree with that, but when he pulled back and gave me a devilish smile, I knew he was sticking with the original plans.

“I promised ye a movie at the cinema, and I plan on delivering.” The heat came back in his eyes and he looked down at my mouth before licking his lips. “But that doesn’t mean when we get home tonight, I canna strip ye bare and drag my tongue all over that perfect body of yers before burying my face between yer thighs and making my girl come hard for me.”

Oh gods, the mouth on this male…

I could feel the hard length of him pressing against my belly, and those tendrils of desire started to become a wildfire in me, racing throughout my entire body until I knew there was no stopping it.

As if he knew we had to stop now or we really wouldn’t be leaving, he gave me one more lingering kiss before leading me out of the house and into the waiting vehicle.

The drive into town was long given the fact his home was out in the middle of nowhere, tucked away deep in the wooded Highlands, but I enjoyed the trip.

He held my hand the entire time and didn’t try to make small talk. He just drove as we listened to music.

Once in town, we had dinner before seeing the movie; the café was a little establishment that was intimate and occupied by only a handful of people. Once again, he was thinking about my comfort, making sure I was acclimated slowly back into society.

We walked along a small cobblestone sidewalk before the movie started, and he gave me a small history lesson on the town, how in the sixteenth century one of the wealthy families had the biggest scandal the town had ever encountered.

And that was a pregnancy out of wedlock by a servant.

The way Odhran told the story made me feel like I was right there, witnessing the audacity the town probably felt when they found out the mistress of the manor had gotten knocked up by the stable boy. But it had a happy ending, where they’d run off together, never to be heard from again.

I could picture them hidden away in a small cottage, a noblewoman and a commoner, having fallen in love, created a family, and run away because society had said they shouldn’t be together.

It was all awfully romantic, and I slipped my hand through Odhran’s as we continued to walk, envisioning the story as if it were my own movie playing in my mind.

The little cinema wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before, certainly not something that had been popular in my time or even a thing. And as we sat in the row in the back, the entire theater curiously empty of any other patrons, I finally looked at Odhran and lifted an eyebrow, asking him without saying the words what was going on.

Because he knew me so well, could read me so well, his smirk told me the answer I’d already assumed.

He’d paid for the entire cinema for us to watch my very first movie alone.

My heart did this funny thing in my chest and I didn’t stop myself from raising up enough that I could kiss him. He had a hand on the back of my head and gently curled his fingers around my hair, keeping my mouth to his.

The lights lowered after a few moments, and that was when we broke away, panting, my body soft and wet in all the right places, my thighs clenched tightly together even though that made the pressure between my legs even worse.

He stared into my eyes, his gaze stormy and heated, and then he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me in close.

I’d never seen something as wondrous as the movie that played on a screen as big as the wall. The colors and lights, being transported to a whole different world, a different time and place, was the most magical thing I’d ever experienced.

I could feel Odhran watching me the entire time instead of the movie, but thankfully I was so engrossed with this new experience that we didn’t have time to let the heat between us consume each other and make us do something totally inappropriate in public.

By the time we left, the sun had set, the night brought a chilly breeze with it, and I was grinning from ear to ear and feeling higher and lighter than I ever had before.

We walked down the cobblestone sidewalk and then he pulled me toward a small bakery that served more authentic Scottish delicacies. After looking at the menu, I ordered a cranachan, a layered dessert that had fresh whipped cream, toasted oats, and plump, ripe raspberries. It even came with a touch of whiskey.

While he was finishing up with our orders, I made my way toward a little fountain tucked against the back wall of the building. There was an alley parallel to it, and I could tell the owners tried to hide the fact that the trash cans were kept back here by putting up a lattice partition with faux ivy woven between the framework.

I glanced over my shoulder to see Odhran still standing by the front counter. The young girl who stood by the register was looking up at him with big, wide eyes. No doubt she’d never seen a male so large and intimidating, even if he was giving her a friendly smile.

As if he felt my gaze on him, he glanced over at me, that friendly smile turning into something more loving, more possessive and heated. Smoldering. His gaze raked up and down my body, and I felt a shiver race through me at how intently I felt that one look.

Instantly I thought about going back to the estate, letting him strip me bare and do all the things he promised. I imagined his tongue moving over every part of my naked skin, as if he were tasting me like a delicacy he’d never get enough of.

And then he gave me a wink that was full of intent and a whole lot of orgasms promised for tonight.

His attention was pulled back to the young girl, and I was thankful for her perfect timing so I could catch my breath and regroup. Walking around town aroused wasn’t the most comfortable thing to do.

I turned back to the fountain, closing my eyes for a minute and just listening to the trickling sound of the water falling into the basin.

“Rhodes, stop guzzling it. Yer’re already fooking sloshed.” The slurred male voice filtered down through the alley.

I shifted to the side and peered around the lattice wall to see three shadowy bodies ten feet from me, a clear bottle of liquor being passed between them.

“Shut it, ya dobber. I bought the damn thing.” The one I assumed was named Rhodes brought the bottle to his mouth and took a hearty chug before passing it off to his friend.

They started heading toward me, their voices slurred, their laughter growing the closer they got.

When they were close enough for me to smell the liquor on their breath, I went to straighten but my hand slipped, causing the lattice to sag against the fountain. The sound was minimal but the males heard and snapped their heads up, their gazes latching on to me.

Then the one called Rhodes grinned and sauntered up to me before I could move back.

My entire body went ramrod straight, this strange sort of panic rising for just a second before this numbness settled in. Although anxiety rose in me, I could sense they weren’t a threat, not really, not even for my weak nymph strength.

They were a menace. An annoyance, but despite my brain knowing that, my body reacted in the only way it knew how to for the last several decades.

It seized up.

The male smiled, his eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot, and the scent of cheap whiskey and days-old sweat coating him.

He was young, but it was clear he lived a harder life. Probably drank too much, smoked too many cigarettes, and didn’t get enough sleep or eat well enough.

And those thoughts ran through my head when I saw him lifting his hand and bringing it toward me. It was when he dragged his finger down the length of my arm that something in me snapped.

There was a voice inside of me that screamed I’d had enough, that I was too tired, too angry to let things be, to accept things the way they were. I didn’t have to be that way anymore. I didn’t have to submit to survive.

Before I knew what was happening, I brought my arm up, my hand connecting with his cheek. His head snapped to the side, the sound of my open palm cracking against his flesh so loud it echoed off the alley. His two friends were stunned into silence, their eyes wide as they looked between each other.

And then the male I hit slowly turned and looked at me, baring his teeth, and I knew his drunken anger was about to make itself known.

“Fooking cow.” He gritted his teeth, and even in the shadowy alley I could see his cheek turning a bright pink from my slap. “C’mere, lassie, yer mawkit.”

But before I could move away, react, scream, or otherwise, a slow, deadly, threatening growl came from behind me. The human before me froze, his mouth going slack as he tipped his head up, and up, and up a little bit more so he was looking at whatever stood right behind me.

Not something… someone. My mate. Odhran.

Rhodes’s friends took a step back, and another one, horror morphing their faces. I could only assume what they saw. I knew my mate was almost in full Lycan mode. Glowing blue eyes, body getting bigger.

And although the Otherworld was relatively kept secret for the safety of the species, and rarely let themselves be known to humans, sometimes it just couldn’t be helped. And those times were when you were protecting your mate.

I felt Odhran’s hand land gently on my shoulder. Ever so softly, slowly, he adjusted me so I was now behind him, his big body like a shield in front of me. I looked up at his profile, but his expression was void of any kind of emotion.

The calm before the storm. Dangerous waters without a ripple or a wave.

“Odhran,” I said softly but he didn’t look at me, didn’t flinch, didn’t even blink. “Let’s go,” I said with a little more strength in my voice, and placed my hand around his thick wrist.

I glanced down to see his hands were curled tightly into fists before he relaxed them. He did this motion over and over again, his nails now claws, the heat pouring off him at dangerous levels.

I said his name again, but still he was silent, still that low growling leaving his chest and increasing in intensity the longer we stood there.

And then he was taking a step closer, and another one. I felt my eyes widen when he curled his hand around Rhodes’s throat and slowly lifted him off the ground, the male insubstantial compared to Odhran and a Lycan’s strength. The human clawed at Odhran’s hand, the tips of his toes barely scraping the asphalt.

The human was gasping, his face turning red as my mate leaned in and growled something low, harsh, and unintelligible against the human’s ear.

And then Rhodes’s eyes widened, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Odhran pulled back, and they were now nose-to-nose, my mate’s gaze fierce and glowing.

Rhodes made gagging, strangled noises and then just as quickly as the situation started, Odhran was dropping the human to the ground, turning around to take my hand, and leading me away from the scene.

My body was trembling, not from Odhran’s reaction, but from a multitude of different emotions and sensations moving through me. I’d been so shocked to see him react that way that my fear and the memories of the past had been temporarily beaten down.

But the farther we moved away from the men, the more I started to feel my body unravel, my mind fraying at the edges.

Odhran didn’t say anything as he helped me into the SUV, buckled me in, and then gently smoothed his hand over the back of my head. He refused to look me in the eye, but that was probably for the best. I was feeling stripped bare.

Part of me hated the woman I’d become, the female who, although she had shown strength just moments ago, was still so unsure of how to navigate this new world of freedom.

The trip back to his home was done in silence, with the intermittent sound of his hands tightening around the steering wheel, of the leather creaking filling the interior of the car.

It wasn’t until he was pulling the car to a stop, cutting the engine, and then helping me out of the vehicle that I dug my feet into the ground and looked up at him. His focus was on the ground, his jaw tight, a muscle flexing underneath the scruff-covered skin.

“Can you give me a minute?” I waited until he looked at me, until his glowing blue eyes were locked with mine before I spoke again. “Just a moment alone. I…” I glanced down at my feet, my brows pulled low as I was lost in thought. “I just need a moment to myself.” To rage, to cry, to scream, to just say screw all this pain and push through it, move forward. I didn’t want to live my life like this. I didn’t want to be so trapped in the past it was my own personal vault, a hell that I’d never escape.

He glanced up and looked around, as if he could see into the dark in the forest. His nostrils were flared, his eyes appeared a little fierce, and his breathing was a little fast. “I didn’t frighten ye, did I? I could no’ stand it if I was the cause of any of yer fear.”

When he looked at me there was a lot of torment behind his eyes, something I wished I could take away from him. But I couldn’t even control myself or my own feelings. I wanted to be strong for him, so strong that he didn’t have to worry that I was too fragile and unbreakable, that I wasn’t truly ruined.

I knew by the look on his face it was painful for him to give me this time to myself, his instincts and inner animal demanding he was always near, always protecting me. I was proud of both of us when he gave a slow nod, leaned down and kissed my forehead, and then took a step back.

“I’ll be here for ye, lass. When ye’re ready. I’ll be right here.”

A major part of me wanted to stay, to just wrap my arms around him, rest my head on his chest, and have him promise me that everything would be okay. That no matter what I felt or thought or saw, everything would be okay.

With one last lingering look, the scent of impending rain in the air, and the heavy cloak of darkness shielding me, I turned and walked toward the forest.

Chapter

Twenty-One

Odhran

Letting her go, walk away from me, was a hard fucking pill to swallow.

Although I could still feel Larkin’s presence on the property, and could find her within minutes if need be, I was antsy and nervous about not being at her side.

I exhaled a harsh breath and ran my hand over my hair, mussing the strands. I had Lycan sentries sprinkled throughout the entire property, but they kept their distance from her unless I specifically told them otherwise. And right now, I knew they were far enough away that she still had the privacy she so craved and deserved.

Realistically I knew I couldn’t be her shadow forever. She needed to be able to spread her wings to explore, to taste the freedom that had been so cruelly taken from her.

It was the crack of thunder, the flash of lightning that drew my thoughts and had me tilting my head back so I was gazing at the sky.

Although it was dark, I could still see the thunderclouds rolling overhead; I could smell the promise of rain in the air. Then the sky opened up as if weeping for the world, the rain pelting down and soaking me in a matter of seconds.

Fook this. I need her, need tae hold her, need tae look intae her eyes and tell her I love her.

I stepped into the woods, feeling the pull of her pulse like a beacon for me to find her. And when I inhaled deeply, I felt my brows pull down low on their own as I picked up on a scent that twisted my heart like a knife plunged deep inside.

I was moving faster, eating up the distance before I slowed to a stop and found Larkin kneeling on the ground, her palms resting on her thighs, her head lowered, her dark hair wet and hanging on either side of her like a curtain, shielding her and offering a semblance of protection.

“Lass,” I whispered, and moved toward her before sinking to the ground in front of my wee mate. The aroma… her tears knocked me on my ass, and I reached out to tip her head back with my index finger under her chin.

Her blue eyes were filled with this fire I’d never seen before. It wasn’t sorrow that I was scenting from her, but frustration and anger zapping around her like the lightning whisking through the sky right now.

I knew that kind of anger well, an old friend I’d clutched on to for far too long. I pulled her onto my lap as I sat on the ground; the rain was slightly letting up but still there was a steady mist breaking through the tree line and covering us.

Fog started to roll in, but I paid no mind to anything but Larkin, of how she curled her hands around my shoulders, her nails digging into my shirt. She clutched at me, her eyes taking on this wild note as her breathing picked up.

“I love ye, sweetheart. I love ye with everything I am, everything I’m made of. Ye are the very makeup of the male who is before ye pleading for yer heart and love.” I leaned in and rested my forehead on hers. “I’m just flesh and bone, a male who is looking into the most gorgeous blue eyes I’ve ever seen, and praying tae whatever gods will listen that they’ll never take ye away from me again.”

I pulled back and saw her eyes widen, her pupils dilated, and I lowered my gaze to her pink, parted lips.

She licked them, and fire burned in my body and settled in my cock. I was already stiff because she was near, because she smelled so good and felt even better.

Larkin pressed her chest to mine, her lips slanting against my mouth, her tongue plunging in. She made this soft, almost desperate sound in the back of her throat, and I wrapped my arms around her, tilting my head to deepen the kiss.

She was clawing at my back, trying to get as close as she could, as if she wanted to burrow herself inside of me. Her actions were frantic, panicked, and although I didn’t want to stop kissing her, didn’t want to pull away, I did just that.

With my hands gently curled around her upper arms, I broke the kiss and controlled my breathing as I looked down at her face.

She shook her head. “Don’t stop this,” she whispered and tried to lean in again. “I need you. I need to be with you. I need to replace the memories that haunt me. I need you to help chase away the demons that live in the far dark recesses of my mind.”

She tried to kiss me again but I held firm, seeing that desperation in her eyes. I knew it all too well, the kind that made you do anything just to stop feeling the darkness that was trying to pull you under, trying to bury you alive.

“Lass, I’m here for you. Always. In any way. I’d give my life for yers. We donna have tae do anything ye’re no’ ready for. We can find other ways to cope. Together. We can get through this pain as one—” When she vehemently shook her head, I clenched my jaw, seeing that steely determination on her face.

My female. My strong, powerful mate.

I ground my teeth again because I knew I was weak where she was concerned, knew I’d give her anything her heart desired.

“I’m tired of being angry and weak. I’m tired of feeling powerless.” Tears trailed down her cheeks but they weren’t ones of sorrow. She was frustrated. “I’m tired of the hand that life dealt me. We finally have each other’s backs and I want to move forward. I want to start a life with you. Tiptoeing around the trauma is only going to keep me down in that hell. I want you, and you want me, Odhran. And I want to be with you now.”

She was breathing harder, tears sliding down her cheeks. It broke my fucking heart. I brushed them away with the pads of my thumbs, searching her face, feeling and hearing and sensing her truth.

“Ye’re the strongest creature I’ve ever met. Ye’re no’ powerless. Ye’re powerful.”

This time when she kissed me it was full and deep and thorough. I didn’t stop her, didn’t try to talk her out of this. Her arousal and the sweet scent of her need for me coated the air, one that my wolf answered with a roaring howl inside of me.

The rain started to pick up again, the mist turning into a drizzle, the fog increasing.

“I’m so…” It was clear she struggled for the right word. “I’m pissed, Odhran. I’m so fucking pissed. Make it all go away. Make me feel good.”

“Ach, my girl, my sweet and tender, soft-hearted girl.” I cupped her cheek. “I wish I could take it all away from ye, that pain and sorrow and anger. I’d take that burden for ye if it would give ye an ounce of peace. Gods, I wish that, lass.”

She shook her head slowly. “I’d never wish that on you. Never. You’ve been through your own hell too.”

She leaned in and was the one to press her lips to my mouth. It was a soft kiss, almost as if she were relishing the fact I had her in my arms. Larkin pulled back, breaking the seal of our lips, and I watched as a tear trailed down her cheek.

And then I was leaning forward, my tongue touching that droplet of salty water as I licked her, following that trail and taking her sorrow into myself. Her little inhalation of breath had me pulling back even more.

We stared into each other’s eyes, my wolf at the surface, wanting to protect his mate.

“I just want to forget,” she whispered. “I want to pretend nothing ever happened, that I was never taken from you, that we never experienced all the pain and sadness and hurt.” Her breath hitched and when her gaze dropped to my mouth, a low growl left me.

“My darlin’, how I wish that too.”

“Let’s make new memories.” She wrapped her arms more firmly around my shoulders, pressed her breasts to my chest, and parted her lips to sweep her tongue into my mouth.

I growled and curled my fingers around her waist, unable to stop myself from pushing her down on my thick length. My canines ached something fierce and my mouth watered. I wanted more.

I wanted it all.

We kissed even deeper until she was rocking back and forth on top of me, her soft moans fueling my desire and making me fucking primal.

“It feels so good, Odhran.”

I growled and nipped at her bottom lip until she gasped and ground herself against me even harder.

“I want tae make ye feel even better.” I gently bit her lip again and soothed the bite mark with my tongue before plunging it inside again and stroking her.

A second later she broke the kiss, her hands going between us as she gripped her shirt and started pulling it up. I leaned back and flattened my hands into the earth, curling my claws into the dirt so I didn’t tear the material off her in a frantic rush of carnal desire.

Staying still and keeping my hands to myself was damn near torture, but to see the firm peaks of her breasts revealed, how her nipples tightened from the chill in the air, and to watch as the fog swirled around her as if she were an ethereal goddess, had my cock jackknifing in my jeans.

“I want tae give ye sweet, slow, and easy for the first time.” Of course my wolf demanded I take her in the primitive, primal way of our kind, where my cock was deep in her virgin pussy and her neck was bared to me, my canines deep in her flesh. But that wasn’t how this first time could go.

We both needed to take things slow. And I could wait to give her my mark, because making this perfect for her was of the utmost importance to me.

She didn’t speak for a second as she stared at me, breathing heavily, her firm, perfectly hand-sized breasts shaking from the force of her respiration.

“I know you won’t hurt me—”

“—never,” I said, cutting her off and making that lone word rumble out of my chest so there was no doubt.

“And I won’t break.” She leaned in and was the one to kiss me now, once, twice, and on the third time deepening it and sucking on my tongue.

I groaned and had my hands back on her waist, knowing I smeared dirt on her, but the scent of the wilderness all around us, the feeling of my mate on top of me, and her need for me to finally claim her, clouded everything else.

“So I’m asking you to be with me. Don’t think of me as the girl who can’t handle her mate. I know you’ll take care of me. I know you’ll be gentle.”

I tilted my head and plunged my tongue between her lips, groaning at the same time we both started frantically working at each other’s clothing. Material tore apart, fabric being tossed aside like tissue, and then we were both naked and she was right back on my lap.

I closed my eyes and felt my muscles contract as her wet, warm slit moved against my cock. Her small sound of pleasure, her moan of need, had me moving her back and forth.

I rocked her against me, letting her pussy frame my cock, the stiff length nestled between her folds as her slickness aided in the movements. And soon that slow and steady rocking became a little faster as she worked her hips over me, as she found a rhythm that could get her off.

And all I could do was watch her face in wonder and try like hell not to come before I made my mate feel good.

“Ye’re mine,” I growled and let my wolf rise up. “Only mine. Forever.” My voice was distorted. “Say it, tell yer mate.”

She moaned and let her head fall back on her neck as she moved back and forth a little quicker.

“Say it,” I growled harshly, instantly hating myself for taking on a feral tone. But when she pressed her pussy down on my cock even harder and moaned louder, as if she liked it, I gnashed my teeth together and let my gaze travel down to the arch of her neck. Fuck, I could see her pulse throbbing beneath her pearlescent skin.

My mouth watered.

“Put me inside of ye, lass.” I wasn’t looking at her when I said the harsh words, my gaze still latched on to where my mark would go.

The sound she made had me snapping my focus up to her face. She wore this hooded expression. Her lips were parted, pink and swollen and wet from my kisses. I found myself reaching out and snagging a lock of her hair, rubbing it between my fingers, mesmerized.

Then my gaze dropped to her throat, where I saw her pulse beat wildly.

When I dropped that lock of hair and dragged the thick pad of my finger down her jugular to stop at the tender spot where her neck and shoulder met, my entire body heated… hardened.

“This is where my mark will go.”

And then she was reaching between us, wrapping her small hand around my thick cock enough that I hissed out in pleasure and pain, and rose up to notch the head of my dick at her entrance.

She was hot and slick, her juices sliding down my crown and along the length of my shaft. I wanted this claiming to be messy, to have her arousal on my thighs, to smell it coating the air as she got off. I needed that.

I had to control my breathing because I would’ve come right then and there, not even penetrating her, not even feeling the hot clench of her inner walls gripping my cock.

But when she froze, her eyes wide, I told myself to stay calm.

“Sweetheart, we donna have tae do this…” My words were a harsh bark out of me, cut off as Larkin sank down, enveloping the head of my cock in her tight heat.

My jaw went slack, and then my teeth gnashed tightly together.

Her gaze was latched on to my teeth, her breathing harsh as she whispered, “Your canines are so long.” She slowly looked into my eyes. “I know you’ve been wanting to mark me for so long, Odhran. So long.”

I groaned at those words, my eyes rolling back in my head as she sank down another inch.

She gasped and said, “You’re so big. Too thick.”

I opened my eyes and just saw glowing, fierce, and possessive blue.

“Help me, Odhran.”

I curled my hand around her hip, trying to be mindful, knowing that I had to be gentle. I was so far gone right now I couldn’t see straight, couldn’t think rationally or humanly.

“Ye’re doing so good, baby.” I gritted out those words as I pushed her down at the same time I lifted my hips, making her take another inch.

She squeezed her eyes shut then instantly snapped them back open, this almost panic being projected on her face.

I placed my hand right over her heart, my palm flat over her sternum. “Look at me. Look intae my eyes. Know that ye’re right here with me.” She panted as we sat there frozen. I felt her heart race under my hand. “Ye know I’ll always take care of ye, always be here tae keep ye safe.” She closed her eyes again.

“Odhran,” she said, a little moan spilling from her as I pushed another inch in.

“Ye’re doing so well, Larkin. Look at ye, my girl taking all of me, so strong, so perfect.”

She had her hands on my shoulders, squeezing tightly as she pushed down at the same time I thrust up, burying the rest of my thick inches into her tight, scorching heat.

And when she was flush with me, her perfect, small ass resting against my heavy balls, I exhaled in a sharp rush.

“Take control, baby. Ye have the power. Ride me.” For a moment she looked like she wanted to argue, that hesitancy on her face almost my undoing.

I gave her praise, whispered how good she was, that she was the best, how I’d never felt anything better. And when I flexed my hips upward and she mewled, that was when she started working herself over on me.

“Oh.” The broken-up noise that left her had male pride filling me because it was one purely of pleasure. I gripped her waist and rolled my hips so that her clit was rubbing against my stomach.

She was so wet, her juices covering my abdomen and thighs. It turned me the fuck on, had me nearly coming right then and there.

I couldn’t keep the foul, sexual, filthy laced words from spilling from my mouth, but at least I was mindful enough to speak them in Gaelic, not scandalize my mate with the vile things I said.

How tight her cunt was.

How I wanted her pussy juices to cover me.

How I wanted to feel her inner muscles clenching around my cock because I filled her up, and then when I pulled out, I’d watch my cum spill from her tight heat.

I wanted to cover her in my seed, bathing her in my cum so she was marked on the outside as well as the inside. She’d smell like me, and any male who got close would scent me on her and know I’d tear them limb from limb if they so much as looked at her.

And Gods I wanted to fill her up, too. I wanted to breed her, fill her womb with my seed until I got her pregnant. I wanted to watch my sweet girl grow big with my child. My cock jerked and thickened even more at the very thought.

Instinct told me what to do, how to make her feel good. When she was riding on top of me, I reached between our bodies, found the hard, swollen bundle of her clit, and started rubbing slow circles.

She froze on top of me, tossed her head back, the long fall of her raven hair brushing against my upper thighs as she came. I didn’t move, feeling the contractions of her pussy clenching around my cock, watching in awe as pleasure morphed her expression.

“Ye’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. And ye’re mine.” I roared out, letting her ride out the pleasure, knowing that there was nothing hotter than seeing my mate unhinged for me as I was buried deep in her body.

And when she exhaled as her climax started to level out, I couldn’t stop myself. My movements were fast, supernatural, as I was off the ground and had her on her back, my dick still buried deep inside of her tightness. She looked at me with a drugged expression, her mouth still parted, lips swollen and red.

“Claim your mate.” Her voice was soft, barely audible from her post-orgasm. “Finally.”

And when she tipped her head to the side, baring her throat, I felt my wolf push forward that last couple of inches.

I started to partially shift, my body growing bigger, my mouth watering, saliva dripping down and landing on her chest.

I leaned down and licked the beads off, tasting her sweet, yet salty sweat, starting to throw my hips back and forth again, unable to stop myself from fucking her.

“Tell me who loves ye.” Thrust. “Tell me who is always going tae be there for ye?” Thrust. “Tell me who will destroy the world if any harm comes tae ye.” Thrust. Thrust. Thrust.

“You,” she moaned, her eyes wide and mouth parted.

“Gods, I love ye, lass.”

I slammed a hand down on the ground, bent one of my knees a little more so I could dig my heel into the earth, and then I jackknifed my hips up, pushing even more of my cock into her.

We both groaned, and she looked at me, her head tipped to the side as her eyes grew even heavier in appearance. And so I did it again and again and again.

I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head, trying to keep my control, trying to keep my human side at the forefront. I didn’t want to frighten her.

“You’re not,” came her soft reply as if she read my thoughts. Or maybe she just knew me that well, could see my expression, sense the turbulent emotions around me, and wanted to reassure me.

Gods, my girl was something incredible.

“I trust you.”

I opened my eyes to look down at her, to feel her hands sliding up my arms, over the sides of my throat, and finally cupping my cheeks.

“I trust you.”

Something broke inside of me, something I hadn’t known sat at the edge, about to tip over, crashing to the ground into a thousand pieces.

And as I looked into her blue eyes, feeling happiness and love and pleasure swell within me, I knew I would love this girl until the end of time, until my heart stopped beating and breath ceased to fill my lungs.

I let my wolf forward and felt my orgasm approach, my balls drawing up tight, my cock thickening. She tipped her head to the side even more, her jugular throbbing, my mouth watering.

I ran my tongue over her flesh. Back and forth, over and over, feeling her pulse beat wildly under the muscle.

I closed my eyes and groaned, slammed into her once, twice, and on the third time I buried myself balls-deep inside her tight pussy and sank my canines into her throat, giving her my mark so all would know she was mine.

Finally. Finally she’s ours.

My wolf howled and roared as I came and came and came, filling her up with my seed, making her smell like me from the inside out.

My mark wasn’t just on her neck, but inside her body.

I came so hard, so long, that I started to feel my seed slipping out from where we were connected.

With one final full-body shudder, I was mindful enough to brace my hands on the ground beside her head so I didn’t crush her. I rested my forehead on her chest, breathing harshly, dizzy, sated, and drained of pleasure.

After a moment, I rolled over but took her with me, lying on the forest floor with my mate on top of my chest, my arms wrapped around her, and for the first time in my life, I finally felt complete.

I lay there and held my girl, staring into her face, memorializing the way she was looking at me, all wonder and awe and… happiness.

There wasn’t a shred of that worry that creased her forehead, or the pain that haunted her eyes.

She stared at me as if she knew I’d always have her, always keep her close, and I’d never, ever let her down.

Chapter

Twenty-Two

Odhran

She was pliant for me. Her head rested on my shoulder and a small smile curved her lips. I didn’t think I’d see her looking so trusting of me for a very long time.

I tightened my arms around her as warmth bloomed in my chest, and I made my way through the forest and back into the manor, up the stairs, and into the master suite.

Once in the bathroom, I set her on the edge of the sink, dirt and mud covering her pale flesh. I stared at my mate for long seconds, amazed and marveling that she was actually here, after all this time. Mine.

She glanced down and her cheeks heated as she covered her breasts with her arms.

We hadn’t bothered dressing after what we’d done in the forest, but I wanted her to see how beautiful she was, how perfect she was in my eyes.

“Look at me.” She lifted her head and our gazes locked. I helped her off the counter and turned her around so she was facing the mirror. “Look at ye.” I took hold of her wrists and lifted her arms out. “I donna see flaws. I donna see scars. The ugliness we perceive in ourselves doesn’t define us. It shapes and molds us and we become fucking battle gods because of it. Ye hear me, lass? Ye are a warrior who conquered.”

Her breath caught and she looked at me in the reflection.

“I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.” I turned her around and kissed her soft and slow, running my hands all over her body. I touched every inch of her skin, showing her with my touch that there wasn’t any part of her that wasn’t desirable.

After turning on the shower and letting it warm, I picked her back up and stepped into the stall, making sure the water wasn’t too hot for her sensitive flesh before putting her under the spray. She tipped her head back, the long fall of her raven hair getting impossibly darker as the strands became soaked.

My gaze latched on to her neck, where my mating mark was, and my cock instantly became hard once again.

The damn thing dug against her firm ass, and she looked over her shoulder, a dreamy, post-orgasmic expression in her drowsy eyes, heating the longer we stared at each other.

I didn’t stop myself from sliding my hand up her abdomen and gently curling my palm over her throat. The touch was light, and the fact that she moaned told me she was right fucking here with me.

I kissed her slowly and thoroughly.

While fucking her mouth, I moved my other hand between her thighs and started playing with her already slick pussy, a combination of her growing desire and my cum.

I turned us so the water beat down on my back, and all the while I stroked her, rubbed her clit, and kept kissing her. She was pliant in my arms, primed and ready for me.

The shower stall was balmy, humid, and I groaned when she ground her ass back against my cock.

“If ye’re sore…” I murmured between kisses and felt her shake her head.

A second later I had her turned around. She immediately wound her arms around my shoulders, plastering her small, firm breasts against my chest.

“Don’t stop.”

“Never.”

I walked us forward so her back was now to the tile, adjusted her legs so they were wrapped around my waist, and as I devoured her mouth, I reached between our bodies, took hold of the root of my cock, placing the tip at her entrance.

She arched her back, her hard nipples scraping against my chest.

And when she moaned, I pushed forward, sinking in all the way, both of us groaning. Gods she was tight, hot, and wet for me.

My cock throbbed when her inner muscles clenched around me. And then I started a slow and steady motion. This wasn’t a wild, frenzied mating.

This was me making love to my female.

“You’re doing so good,” I grunted against her mouth while her pussy contracted against my dick. “You’re making me feel so good. The best.” I squeezed my eyes shut as my entire body trembled. “Look at how well ye’re taking all of me. I know I’m big, lass. I know it probably hurts, but fooking hell, darlin’, keeping doing so well, keeping opening up for me.”

I pulled out so just the tip was lodged inside and then thrust back in. I did this over and over again, the root of my shaft rubbing her clit with every thrust forward.

“No one will ever compare tae ye. Nothing will ever feel as good as being inside of ye.”

I slammed a palm on the wall beside her head, curled my other arm more tightly around her waist, and kept the slow, steady pace of fucking my female until her pussy clenched around me once more and she came.

“That’s my girl. Give me yer mouth while ye come for me, sweetheart.”

She tipped her head to the side and met my mouth, licking and sucking, crying out against my lips as I thrust deep once, twice, three times, before burying myself fully and filling her up.

I made her take every drop as curses and shouts left me. She was mine, and nobody and nothing would ever take her from me.

When we were both spent, she sagged against my body and I held her close, turned off the water, and stepped out of the shower to towel her off. She was sated and pliant in my arms as I carried her to our bed, put one of my T-shirts on her body, and slipped in beside her so I could curl my body around hers. I threw one of my legs over hers and bound my arm around her middle.

I brushed her damp hair away from her neck and nuzzled her throat, inhaling deeply. And then I dragged my tongue across the mating mark, tasting myself on her, growling low and possessively.

“Mine,” I rumbled out and slid my hand up the center of her back to cup her head, keeping her close.

Larkin rested her cheek against my chest, and I closed my eyes and breathed out.

She’d never know the extent of my feelings for her, never fully understand that my heart beat for her.

She’d never fully understand I lived for her.

Chapter

Twenty-Three

Larkin

“Lass, ye have visitors.”

I glanced up from the laptop to see Odhran standing in the doorway of the study, a soft expression on his face, the corner of his mouth kicked up in a little smile.

“I love seeing ye like this?”

I leaned back in the chair and gave him a smile of my own. “And what way is that?”

He inhaled and exhaled slowly, as if he felt so much contentment and pleasure in that moment. It took him a moment to finally say, “Like ye’re happy.”

My heart kicked a little in my chest and I felt a light heat spread across the tops of my cheeks. “I am happy,” I whispered, and his nostrils flared before a low growl left him.

He had one shoulder against the doorframe, his thickly corded arms crossed over his broad chest. His short blond hair was tousled, the coloring seeming a little lighter because we’d spent a lot of time outside.

He was just so incredibly handsome. And all mine.

My body instantly warmed at the sight of him.

But then his words settled into me and I felt my brows lower. “Guests?” There was no anxiety or hesitation coming from him, and because he seemed very easy-going right now, so did I.

“Aye.” He pushed away from the door and entered the room to come to stand in front of me. He held his hand out.

I slipped my much smaller one against his palm and let him pull me up before he embraced me. I rested my cheek against the center of his chest, and inhaled, the scent of fresh air, wild pine, and that spicy, dark aroma that was all Odhran. It filled my head and soothed me but also had arousal climbing swiftly in me.

“I can send them away and instead take ye upstairs.”

“Oh? And what would we do?” I teased. “Read? Maybe listen to some soothing music and meditate? Or you could teach me some more Latin? You know how I’ve been struggling with pronunciation.” I felt a grin cover my mouth.

He growled again and that smile faded as desire rose in me. I moaned at how the vibrations from his voice settled right between my thighs.

“I was thinking more along the lines of burying my face between yer pretty thighs and feasting on ye, lass, until ye give me three orgasms.”

I was tempted to take him up on that offer, but I pushed my basic desire down and lifted my head to look into his face. “How about you tell me who it is first.”

“Mmm. I like my suggestion better.”

I laughed. “I bet you do.” After a moment he groaned in disappointment, gave me a long, lingering kiss, and huffed out like he was frustrated, which only made me smile even more.

“Luna, Darragh, and Evie are here. I dinna know they were coming, so I can send them away if their surprise visit is too much, darlin’.”

“They came here to see me? Why?”

“Ah, my lass, who wouldn’t want tae see ye?” He cupped each side of my face before kissing the center of my forehead. “They want tae meet the lass I’m completely and utterly, madly in love with.”

I felt that flutter in my belly happen again, and my heart race from his words. We stared into each other’s eyes for long seconds, and I fell into that intimate moment where nothing else mattered but being here with my mate.

“Okay,” I whispered and pressed my chest to his, rose on my toes, and kissed him softly on the lips.

With one more lingering kiss from him, and a rough growl against my lips, we broke apart and he led me out of the study to where the trio awaited.

I could hear the feminine chatter before we rounded the corner and made our way toward the front foyer. And then I saw them, the trio seeming so comfortable with each other as they talked animatedly and laughed together.

It wasn’t something I’d seen for a very long time, not since I’d been with my family, and it had a special kind of longing filling me.

When they realized we’d entered, all conversation stopped and they faced us. Darragh had her clasped hands up to her mouth as she stared at me with wide eyes. Luna had a motherly smile on her face, and Evie was grinning from ear-to-ear.

Luna stepped forward and said, “I am so sorry we just burst in on you, but we were in the neighborhood and wanted to drop some things off.” She smiled wider and looked over her shoulder at the other two women before facing me again.

“We were going out to a late dinner, and you’re more than welcome to come with us,” Evie said a little too excitedly as she stepped forward.

“Or we could hang out here,” Darragh said and clapped her hands. “We could order takeout. I know that little pub in town is open until two in the morning.”

I didn’t say anything, felt a little more than shell-shocked at how excited they were, at how they were so eager to move things along. I felt out of my element and found myself tensing, this weird panic starting to settle in me.

“How about we take it easy,” Odhran said, and took a step in front of me, as if he wanted to shield me from the overexposure of everything.

“Oh my God, we are totally scaring the shit out of her.” It was Darragh who spoke, and I leaned to the side and looked around Odhran’s arm to see her sporting a terrified expression on her face.

“I’m fine,” I said, and placed a hand on his arm as I stepped around him and gave the females a smile. “It’s just being around people after everything is a little—”

“Overwhelming.” Luna offered a gentle smile. “We’re overwhelming the hell out of you. Please forgive us.”

I exhaled and smiled in return. “No apologies needed.” Odhran placed a hand on my hip and pulled me back so I rested against his chest, feeling his heat and strength, and smelling his scent all around me.

“We brought you some things,” Evie said, and went over to the door to bend down and grab a large canvas tote.

I stepped away from Odhran and made my way toward the women. “You brought me gifts?”

“It’s just some things that we love, or find comfort in, or hell, just enjoy as a whole.” Evie stopped a few feet from where I stood and offered me the bag.

For a second I just stood there looking down at it, the emotion I felt so overwhelming I couldn’t breathe. It could have been a bag full of bricks and I still would have felt this way. It wasn’t what was inside the tote, but the thought these three females had at bringing me creature comforts to help me feel better.

After being captured, comforts weren’t something I’d had, and gifts, kindness, wasn’t something I’d been familiar with during my time in captivity. My eyes watered, and that prickling in my face warning that I was about to cry rose up.

“Thank you,” I managed to say.

Luna laughed softly. “Honey, you haven’t even seen what’s inside yet.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.” I felt Odhran behind me, his hand on my waist again. I knew he needed to be there for me, touching me in some small way just as much as I did. “The fact you thought about me and wanted to bring me things means a lot. So thank you.” I looked at each of them. “Thank you so much.”

Everyone was silent for a few seconds before Darragh was the one to clap and stepped forward. She crouched and riffled through the duffle before pulling out a large leather-bound book.

“I didn’t have any family growing up, no one but Evie.” The two women looked at each other and smiled. “But when I came to Scotland, I finally met my father, I met my mate, and got a whole new family.” She looked at Luna and I saw the way her eyes softened. “I gained a mother, and for the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere.”

She handed me the book and I took it, the weight substantial, the leather smooth and cool in my hands.

“It’s the history of the Lycans, family trees, lore, any and all details that go back centuries and centuries. It brought me a lot of comfort when I felt lost and didn’t know what was going on. I felt like I’d been thrust into a crazy world where I didn’t belong, and I can imagine maybe you feel the same way in some regard.”

I kept smoothing my fingers along the top of it. “Thank you. This is so special and I’ll treasure it.” Before I knew what I was doing, I embraced Darragh and said, “thank you,” again, much softer this time. When we stepped away Darragh looked just as choked up as I did.

“My turn.” Evie was still grinning as she reached inside the duffle and pulled out another book as well as a plastic container that smelled of oats and chocolate. “So I made you cookies. I can’t guarantee they are the best things in the world, but Cian eats a whole trayful so maybe they aren’t so bad.”

Darragh snorted before saying, “Girl, you know your mate would eat a mud pie if you made it. That man worships the ground you walk on.”

“Says the chick who made dinner, burned it until it was all but blackened and crispy, and still her mate ate the entire thing and asked her to make it again.” There was a second of silence before both women started laughing.

“Anyway,” Evie said, her cheeks pink from laughing. “I wanted to give you something to snack on as you looked through this.”

I gave Odhran the book Darragh had given me before taking the one Evie handed over. “A world history book,” I said as I smoothed my fingers over the embossed cover.

“I’m kind of a history fan, even taking classes online for it.” She shrugged as she stared at the book. “I didn’t know Darragh planned on giving you a book or I would have changed things up, but…” she said, and there was this mysterious teasing in her voice that piqued my interest. I watched as she grabbed something else out of the bag before handing it to me.

I felt my eyebrows hit my hairline as I stared at the three paperbacks with half naked men on the covers. “Oh,” I whispered and heard Odhran make a gruff sound behind me. When I glanced over at him, I could see his brow furrowed and a look of displeasure on his face as he stared at the books.

“Easy, tiger,” Evie said and laughed. “They are just romance books. Your manhood is safe, don’t worry.”

“Romance books?” I said and looked back at Evie. She leaned in and whispered in a conspiracy-laced tone. “Smutty romance books.” When she pulled back and winked, I couldn’t hold in the half-snort, half-laugh that left me.

I didn’t tell her I had enough heat and romance with my mate to last a lifetime, even felt my face heat as I remembered all the things Odhran and I had done together. And of course my mate scented that arousal because he made a deep sound and tightened his fingers on my waist.

“Thank you,” I croaked out, and all three women laughed softly.

“Okay, it’s my turn and then we’ll leave you two alone.” Luna stepped forward and grabbed a bouquet of flowers held together with tissue and twine. The scents instantly burst all around me and I took the offered flowers. “Because I can’t have a traditional garden, for obvious reasons,” she winked and grinned, flashing her fangs, “I have a night blooming garden that I created shortly after being mated to Banner. My flowers bring me comfort, and I wanted to extend that to you.” She started pointing out each one. “This is Evening Primrose, which you can make some lovely oil from. This is Gardenia Jasminoides, and Chocolate Daisy.” She named a few more, and I was transfixed on all the different colors and appearances of each beautiful stem and bud.

After they handed me their gifts, they stayed for five more minutes, wanting to make plans for the future when I was more settled, talking excitedly about having a new mated couple in the family, and how they couldn’t wait for the holidays and gatherings when everyone could get together.

By the time they left I felt happy and loved but most of all… overwhelmed.

“My sweet girl,” Odhran said, and took the flowers from me to set on the foyer table, then grabbed the books and put them back in the tote before coming back to stand in front of me. He pulled me into a tight embrace, and I breathed in slowly. “That was too much, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but it was,” I said and pulled back, feeling my smile grow, “It was absolutely wonderful.”

His smile was slow and lovely, and it made me feel warm and soft in the best of ways.

“How about I help ye unwind?” He pulled me in for another hug and just held me for long seconds.

“Aren’t you hungry?” The low growl that left him had my body reacting.

“Aye, darlin’.” He started kissing my temple, down the side of my face, running his tongue along my neck, and started sucking at my throat. “I’m starving.”

I clenched my thighs together and moaned softly.

“How about we head upstairs and I can run ye a nice hot bath. I’ll wash yer hair, give ye a massage, then I’ll lay ye back on the bed—” he said in a lower voice laced with sexual need, “—spread those pretty pale thighs, and eat that perfect pussy until ye come for me.”

Before I could answer he had me in his arms and was striding to the room, about to make good on that promise.

And I was all for it.

Chapter

Twenty-Four

Larkin

A week later

There were a lot of Lycans that had been coming out of the forest for the past week. I stayed in the comfort of the study, designating it my favorite place on the estate.

The aroma of aged books, leather, and the faint hints of Odhran’s scent lingered in the air. I knew he enjoyed this room as well, and more times than not, when he wasn’t with me, I’d find him sitting in the beat-up leather chair, a glass of whiskey in one hand and a book in another.

Like right now, I was between his legs, my back to his chest as we sat on the couch together. He read to me from the Latin book he was reading, and although I didn’t understand anything he said, the lithe tone of his voice, that deep rumbling pitch, was the most relaxing thing I’d ever heard.

There was a fire going in the hearth, the sun starting to set in the horizon.

“How many languages do you speak?” I asked after he paused to turn the page. His free hand gently stroked my arm, his fingers causing goose bumps to rise up on my flesh.

“Seven.” His voice was calm and relaxed, his body the same. “English, Gaelic, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian. But I’d like to learn more, and was in the process of it when I found ye.”

“So many.” Even I heard the awe in my voice and felt my cheeks heat in embarrassment. He probably thought I was so uncultured and knew nothing of the world.

“I’ll teach ye, lass, if ye want?”

I moved slightly so that I could tilt my head back and look into his eyes. His seemed content, a smile playing across his lips. “I’d like that,” I said honestly. But then his expression turned guarded.

“The reason I started learning all these languages was because I dinna know where ye were. I wanted tae make sure I could speak the language of anyone who might know something of where ye were.”

I lifted my hand and touched his scruff-covered cheek as I gazed into his blue eyes. “I love you.” His expression softened even more, and he leaned in, kissing me on the center of my forehead.

“I love that my mate has such a soft heart.”

I rested back against him and he started reading once more. I got lost in the beautiful tone of his voice, and the way he pronounced the words. I could’ve fallen asleep like that, one of Odhran’s big arms wrapped around my middle like a protective band, the soothing sound of his voice in my ear.

I learned my mate liked creature comforts, wasn’t keen on things changing, but he was incredibly smart and worldly. He knew so much about the world, taught me about science and all the modern technologies. He spoke of histories the likes of which I’d never even heard of.

And we spent countless hours in front of the fire, me just listening to him talk about all the experiences he’d had in his long years, amazed at the life he led, even before we met.

I could hear voices in the distance and perked up, glancing over at the large window, the stained glass detailing around the edge catching the light from the setting sun, passing shards of oranges and reds, blues and greens across the far wall.

“What is that?” The fact Odhran didn’t seem alarmed or overly protective had any kind of fear I might’ve felt being buried deep down. Clearly whoever was out there, he knew about them.

Feeling curious, I untangled myself from his warm hold and padded over to the window. I could see several large Lycans coming out from the woods, heavy-looking duffel bags in their hands, tool belts around their waists.

I felt my brows lower as I watched them head around the side of the house toward the front of the property, where they had no doubt left their vehicles.

A moment later Odhran was standing behind me, his arms wrapped around my waist as he pulled me back against his chest and rested his chin on my head. He didn’t answer me right away, and both of us just watched several more Lycans come out of the forest.

When they were out of sight, I tipped my head back so I could look at his face, cocking an eyebrow because I knew he was fully aware of what was going on. And that was evident by the smirk on his face.

“How would you feel about traveling to visit King Banner and his queen?”

It wasn’t lost on me that he’d changed the subject, and I braced myself for panic to well in me over leaving the little bubble of sanctity that I found here.

But it never came. I felt… curious.

“Banner wants tae discuss the Assembly, and then if we are going tae take Sebastian’s disappearance seriously or listen tae Adryan that his cousin is fine.” He smoothed his hand along the back of my head. “I told Banner my attendance is determined on yer comfort.”

My heart did that funny thing where it hiccupped in my chest at his sweet words. “I don’t want you to go against orders or priorities from your king.”

He was silent for a few seconds, and his gaze roamed over my face as if he wanted to memorize it. He did that a lot. Just stared at me, this almost secret smile on his face as if he couldn’t believe I was actually standing right in front of him.

I leaned forward and rested my forehead on his chest and closed my eyes, just inhaling. He smelled so good.

I felt him kiss the top of my head before he said, “My loyalty and priorities lie with ye. Always. No matter what.”

I was silent for long moments, just mulling over the idea of traveling to meet the king and queen of the Scottish Lycans.

“They want tae have a big feast with all the mated couples. They want tae meet ye, lass, the female who has held my heart in her tiny hands since the moment I saw ye.” He kissed the top of my head again. “They want tae meet the strongest female I know.”

I laughed softly because I didn’t feel strong, least of all like the strongest female. But I understood his sentiment. And I loved him more for it.

“It’s true, darlin’. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met some very powerful Lycans and Otherworlders, males and females who fight to the death.”

He leaned in, and the kiss started off slow, sweet. But when I dug my nails into his biceps, this low growl left him and he deepened the kiss. He stroked his tongue inside my mouth, making these rough, animalistic sounds of pleasure.

By the time he broke away, we were both panting, my lips feeling swollen, my need at the surface.

“My beautiful girl,” he groaned and closed his eyes, staying that way for just a second as if he needed to gather his control.

It was still so surreal that I held this kind of power over the strong Lycan.

“Let’s go. Take me to meet them. We’ve spent weeks here, and although I love having the solitude to gather my thoughts and to be alone with you, time to get to know me better, I also want to know the people you care about, the ones who helped you through your darkness, who gave you support when I couldn’t.”

He opened his eyes and rested his forehead against mine, and for just a moment we shared the same air. “My girl. I love ye.”

Odhran wrapped his big, strong arms around me and just held me for a long second, and when he pulled away, he wore a big grin, one that spoke of excitement.

“I want tae show ye something, sweetheart.”

Before I could say anything, he curled his big hand around mine and led me out of the library, through the foyer, and out the front door. Then we were making our way across the yard and into the woods, where I’d seen the other Lycans emerging from.

I looked up at Odhran and could see he still wore that secret grin, and I felt my belly tighten with anticipation.

Before long we were stopped in front of a newly excavated clearing. My breath caught. I covered my mouth with my hand, and I felt my eyes grow wide.

A circular space of freshly cut trees and cleared earth made up the parcel of land. I could see the large lake on Odhran’s property just through the tree line, the water so close the sound of it lapping at the shore was audibly pleasing.

But it was the intimate little cottage that sat in the center of the clearing that really had my breath catching. With its sky-blue painted shutters, the brightly colored yellow front door, even the potted flowers that lined a path straight to the lake, the cottage radiated solace and peace.

After a suspended time, I dropped my hand from covering my mouth and looked over at my mate. He was still smiling, that softness he always carried in his eyes when he looked at me present. “What is this?”

Although I knew what was right in front of me, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at.

“I know ye have yer family’s home, and ye’re welcome tae go there at any time tae get away from… everything. I also know I can be possessive and suffocating, and I’m sure I’ll get on yer nerves more times than not…”

I refrained from letting my lips twitch in amusement. I wasn’t going to admit that I liked that he hovered, that he couldn’t let me out of his sight for more than a moment’s time. Right now I felt very fragile, so having the steady presence of Odhran right there had an immense calming effect on me.

“So I had the idea that I could make a little retreat right here, steps away from the front door but still close enough I will no’ lose my damn mind with worry for ye.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

He swung his arm out and gestured to the small cottage. “It’s no’ fully finished yet, but I’m too anxious tae show ye. For the past week I’ve been working with the other Lycans to get this built.”

I slowly shook my head as I looked back at the cottage. “But when? You’re always with me.”

“I know. I’m overbearing, overprotective—”

“You’re protective and I love you for it.”

That soft look in his eyes returned. “It was hard leaving ye. But when ye’d sleep, or when ye’d be exploring the estate or reading, I’d steal away for a couple of hours. I couldn’t let the other Lycans build it fully themselves. I wanted tae have a hand in creating this for ye.”

My heart was so full, my eyes stinging from tears of happiness. The amount of thought it took for him to create this, to give me my own space, away from everyone and everything, but close to the water so I could get the healing properties, was so unbelievably empathetic that I did feel the tears slip onto my cheeks.

“Did I overstep?” He read my tears wrong, and I quickly brushed them away before launching myself into his arms.

He made a very gruff, masculine ompf when my body collided with his, but as soon as I wrapped my arms around his neck, he curled his hands around my waist and lifted me off the ground.

“You’re the most thoughtful, selfless male I’ve ever met. I am so lucky to call you mine.”

“Awe, lass.” His voice sounded choked and he held me tighter, murmuring sweet words of love against the side of my neck.

I lifted my head and slanted my lips against his, murmuring my gratitude, how much he meant to me, how safe and loved I felt with him. The kiss, which started out as a physical “thank you,” turned frantic and heated.

I found my legs wrapped around his waist as he started moving, and then Odhran was leaning against a tree, his erection digging into the softest part of me.

I felt so free, kissing my mate out here in the middle of the forest, the sound of the water so close by, my arousal for him taking precedence. I felt a wave of emotion that he was going to such great lengths to make me comfortable, to make sure I was acclimated.

“Odhran,” I murmured against his mouth and he groaned deeply, sliding his hands from my waist down to cover my ass, squeezing the mounds and pulling me closer so that his hardness was digging between my thighs. He was so big. My inner muscles clenched.

“Put me inside of ye, darlin’.”

I was panting when I broke away, and it took a couple of seconds of maneuvering to pull up my skirt and work his erection free of his jeans. And when I was back in position, we both groaned.

I didn’t even bother taking my panties off, just pulled them aside, gripped the hard length of his erection, and placed it at the entrance of my body. He thrust upward in one fluid motion until my body gave way to his penetration and he sank all the way inside.

A hoarse shout was torn from him, and I cried out at how stretched I was, how big he was. And then he was thrusting in and pulling out. Thrusting in and pulling out.

He had a firm grip on my bottom, his mouth now latched on to the side of my neck as he licked and sucked, bit, growled, and snarled. He was all wolf right now, bringing me over the edge so fast my head spun and all I could do was hold on.

I came in a burst of colors and sounds, sensations and cries. He buried his massive length in me and followed me over the edge, filling me up so much that I felt his orgasm start to slip out of where we were joined.

It heated me from the inside out, had tremors of pleasure arcing in me like cracks of lightning.

“My perfect girl is so beautiful. Ye make me feel so good.”

He gently scraped his elongated canines over a soft spot where my neck and shoulder met, close to the mark he’d given me. “I’d face Satan himself to make ye safe and happy. I’d let myself burn in the fiery pits of hell to ensure there was never any doubt in yer mind that ye’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever met.”

I shivered at the feeling his words invoked in me.

“No one will ever make me feel as good as ye do. No one will ever make me as happy as ye do.”

He held me like that for so long I started to feel drowsy, my body relaxed against his.

“I love ye,” he rumbled and kissed his mark.

I smiled. “I love you, too.”

He lifted his head and kissed my lips, but it was so fleeting I moaned in disappointment when he pulled back, a grin in place because my Lycan mate knew the effect he had on me.

“Come on, let me show you the inside of the cottage.”

Once my clothes were adjusted, Odhran took my hand in his and we made our way inside, where I instantly fell in love. It was still unfinished, with exposed beams and unpainted walls, but gods, it was glorious and had my mind working out all the different ways I could make it “my own.”

“You’re wonderful,” I whispered and looked at Odhran. “Absolutely wonderful.” I faced him. “And you’re mine.”

And when Odhran lowered his head, kept his gaze on me, and growled that sexy sound of his wolf, I crooked my finger at him so we could christen this place as well.

Chapter

Twenty-Five

Larkin

“Aye, just like that.”

I sat at the desk with a laptop in front of me. Mora, one of the female Lycan employees who was staff for the manor, stood beside me and helped me navigate the piece of technology.

Tonight we were set to go meet King Banner and his mate, as well as a few humans and Otherworld creatures, for a big feast at the royal estate.

And all day I’d immersed myself in the technology that made my mind spin, and wonder fill me.

“Ye’re picking this up so fast.” Mora sounded proud.

I glanced at her, feeling my smile spread. The praise felt good because I honestly felt like I was wading through sludge with technology.

“If we’re good, I’ll leave ye tae it.”

My focus was back on the laptop, and I nodded. “Thank you for the help, Mora.”

I played around on what she’d called the “Internet,” which was quite possibly the most incredible thing I’d ever seen. I was able to “travel” to the far corners of the earth, to see wonders of the world that I’d only dreamed of visiting. I watched movies right on the screen, saw people experience hobbies and foods, cooking and athletics.

After an hour, I leaned back in the plush leather chair, my fingers aching from the constant clicking and typing I did, my eyes strained from staring at the screen for so long.

I rose and walked over to the “stereo.” I stared at it for a second, so many different machines that did different things. To think I could listen to millions of songs, in any genre, with just a flick of my finger.

Despite Odhran showing me how to work it a couple of times, I fumbled as I turned it on and found something to listen to. It was classical, Mozart, and it was beautiful.

As the music filtered through the room, I moved toward the window in the study, staring outside and seeing Odhran and a few other Lycans finishing up on the construction of my cottage.

I’d even done “online shopping,” as Odhran had called it, to get furniture and decorations for my little slice of solace in the woods. He’d given me a little black square plastic card and told me there was no limit on what I wanted to spend. He insisted I get whatever I wanted. He encouraged me to spend an obscene amount since apparently money wasn’t an issue for my mate.

He spoke to a large Lycan male, one I knew was named Tadhg. Whatever Tadhg said had Odhran tipping his head back and laughing, the sun shining on his profile. My breath caught at how gorgeous he was, so masculine and powerful as the sweat on his brow glistened from the sun.

A couple other Lycans had come to help today. Rory, a young Lycan who seemed to always be smiling. Odhran had told me he did all the tech for the Lycans and was a genius with hacking—whatever that meant. A male named Cathal was present, but he seemed very quiet, and didn’t show any emotions on his face.

And then the last male to show up today was one of the triplet sons of Banner named Tavish. He was young, so young that it was clear he had a very arrogant swagger to him that came with little life experience.

And as if Odhran sensed me, he straightened and looked in my direction. Our gazes locked. I made a small sound of want and watched as his nostrils flared. His mouth moved as he said something to the others, and then he was stalking toward the house… toward me.

I felt heat consume me, felt my nipples bead and my pussy become wet. I turned and faced the entrance of the study just as I heard the front door open and slam shut. A wave of excited apprehension filled me, and I tensed as I heard his heavy boots stomping in my direction, growing louder as he came closer.

He was panting as he came to a sudden stop in the doorway of the study, his chest rising and falling, his eyes glowing blue. He was all sweaty and sexy, and I could scent the musk clinging to him from working outside all day.

“My àlainneachd.” He clenched and relaxed his hands at his sides as if it were taking all his self-control not to come to me. “Come here,” he growled, and I shivered with pleasurable awareness. He lowered his head, his glowing eyes still locked on me. “Come here and take a shower with your mate.”

And I did just that.

Chapter

Twenty-Six

Larkin

Odhran’s estate was grand and extravagant, yet compared to the Scottish Lycan king’s home it seemed almost… modest in comparison.

We’d arrived at the royal family’s home an hour before, and I’d been introduced to everyone I hadn’t previously met.

I met Banner, the Scottish Lycan king who was regal and respectful. I met two of his sons, Caelan and Tavish, along with Cian, who was the general of the Guard—the army for the Lycans. I was happy to see Luna, Evie and Darragh again.

I met Romanian Lycans Ren and his brother Luca, who’d come from Eastern Europe with their mates, Mikalina, and Banner and Luna’s daughter Ainslee.

I’d been introduced to so many different people that I’d felt a little too overwhelmed. Everyone was so nice, hedging around the fact they wanted to ask how I was, if I was okay, how I was acclimating to it all.

But they were respectful of me and the situation, and stayed on neutral “safe” topics.

But my discomfort at being in any type of crowd was obvious because Odhran had sensed it, ushering me away with a gentle hand on my waist as he led me outside.

And that was where I currently was, alone on the patio overlooking the gardens because I’d insisted Odhran go speak with Banner and the other males about the measures that needed to be taken on taking out the Assembly.

I stared out at the beautiful, lit garden, with the night-blooming flowers and remembered the flowers Luna had given me from that very garden.

I leaned against the stone wall on the patio right off the ballroom. At least that was what I called the room. It had an elaborate antler-and-crystal chandelier that hung from the center of the ceiling, and a massive banquet table sat underneath, the top covered with gleaming silver platters that had been filled with so many different kinds of food, I’d never seen such choices.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw the mated couples congregating with each other. They looked so happy, smiling and laughing, and here I was, unable to be surrounded by so many people because I felt suffocated, claustrophobic.

I could see Odhran off in the corner speaking with Banner and two other large males. I didn’t miss how he kept glancing in my direction. Always my protector. Always making sure I was okay and comfortable.

After giving him a reassuring smile, I faced forward again and looked at the property. I could see dark shadows moving throughout the tree lines, knew that they were the guards who watched over the royal family. I looked down at the champagne glass I held, the liquid bubbly, the glass half filled because the flavor wasn’t to my liking.

I heard the patio door open and glanced over my shoulder once more to see Luna stepping out, her long blond hair hanging loosely around her shoulders and almost down to her waist.

She was beautiful in an ethereal kind of way, with bright blue eyes and porcelain skin. Her daughter Ainslee took after her in that regard. They were both so kind, with personalities that put me at ease instantly.

Luna’s brother Adryan had come by shortly before I stepped outside, a big hulking beast of a male with dark hair and bright blue eyes that was the complete opposite of his sister in every possible way.

He came across as an arrogant dick.

And yet he kept an arm around a dainty human female, one I instantly recognized as Kayla. As soon as she’d arrived with her mate and seen me, she’d covered her mouth with a hand, her eyes had gotten big and watery, and then she’d hugged me.

I remembered when I first met her back in that cell, how terrified she’d been, how she knew without a doubt her mate would come for her. I’d seen that reality in her eyes, and I felt this pleasure settle in me that they’d been reunited. I was genuinely happy she’d gotten out of the clutches of the Assembly.

I watched them for a few more seconds and felt a smile on my face. With everybody else Adryan had a stern, almost apathetic expression on his face. But I didn’t miss the longing in his eyes every time he turned and looked at his female.

Luna came to stand beside me, but neither of us said anything for long moments as we both gazed over the grounds. I could’ve started small talk, told her how gorgeous her home was, how beautiful the dinner had been. But the silence was comfortable. Comforting. So I stayed quiet and she did the same.

Murmured voices from inside filtered out, and after a while she finally turned her attention to me. I could feel her gaze and glanced over at her, giving Luna a genuine smile.

“I’ve never seen him so happy.” Were her first words.

I didn’t have to ask what she meant to understand her meaning.

“He acts as if he’s…” she paused and looked out at the garden, “…like he’s finally alive.” Her voice was soft with care.

It was said in a way that sounded motherly, filled with affection for Odhran. And it warmed me that she could see that he was in a much better place now.

She was silent, and there was a second when I could see the empathy reflected back in her blue eyes. I felt my throat tighten, my emotions rising up.

Although I appreciated her sympathy, I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I wasn’t the only one who’d gone through atrocities and trauma. And I didn’t want to be defined by that. As if she realized what I was thinking, she nodded slowly.

“I won’t say what I really want to because I can see on your face you’re carving out a new path for yourself. And I want that for you. I may not know you, but I want that for you, Larkin. But I am sorry. I’m sorry so much of your life was taken from you. I’m sorry you didn’t have a voice in the matter. But you’ll never have to be alone again. Not only do you have Odhran… you have all of us, too.”

She glanced into the home, where everyone was talking and laughing, enjoying each other’s company.

“Every single one of those males and females in there has your back. You have their undying support.”

I was all choked up, because she said the perfect thing at the perfect time. She straightened and nodded, turning back toward the guests.

“Thank you again for coming over with Evie and Darragh, and for all the wonderful things you brought.”

“Honey, you are so welcome.” She gave me that motherly smile I was really growing to love. “I’ll give you a moment to yourself, or take all the time you need. No one will pressure or rush you. We are just so glad you’re here and you and Odhran have been reunited.”

She turned to head back inside. Before she entered, I said, “Thank you again. You have no idea how much your words… how much everything means to me.”

She didn’t say anything but she did give me a smile, and then she was inside, a rush of noise coming out onto the patio until she closed the door, muffling it once more.

I glanced at Odhran and saw he had his hawk eyes trained on me, a silent question asking if I was okay. I gave him another reassuring smile. I knew he’d storm right out here and make sure I was okay himself.

I saw his shoulders visibly relax. I knew he’d been worried about bringing me here tonight, but I didn’t want to be considered fragile. I was stronger than that.

I brushed away a tear I hadn’t known had fallen until it was sliding down my cheek, glanced once more at the night-blooming flowers, and then headed inside.

After telling him I was going to make a detour to the restroom to freshen up, and assuring him I didn’t need an escort, he gave me a kiss on the center of my forehead, and I left.

I wandered around the first floor, looking at some of the Scottish heritage decor before giving up on trying to find someone who could point me in the right direction of the bathroom. As I made my way up to the first level, there was a rhythmic sound coming from down the hallway.

I should have minded my own business, but I found myself moving toward it. The hallway was wide with plush carpeting under my feet, pictures hanging on either side of the walls, some of them landscaped paintings, but the majority of them family portraits and pictures of young children.

I stopped a few feet from one of the opened doors at the end of the hall just as a frazzled-looking young woman came out wearing servant attire and looking annoyed as hell.

She clutched a stack of towels in her arms, and she’d only gotten a foot from the entrance before another towel was hurtled out of the bedroom and landed in the center of the hallway.

I looked between the pieces of cloth and her, seeing that she was on the verge of tears, but then I saw that morph into anger. With one more annoyed look over her shoulder into the bedroom, she huffed out and walked over to the towel to pick it up, then moved past me.

The scent of her inner wolf was right there at the surface, and with a tight-lipped but friendly smile, she left the hall.

Freshening up now forgotten, I found myself moving toward the open doorway even though I kept telling myself curiosity killed the cat.

When I heard the deep rumble of a male speaking under his breath, I froze right before I got to the entrance.

“You fooking left me. Left me.”

He sounded panicked… fearful. I heard him pacing, and judging by the heavy sounds of him moving back and forth, he was big.

“Ye left when I needed ye the most.” He exhaled raggedly, still pacing.

I moved closer, about to step into view of the open doorway, when a gentle hand touched my shoulder, startling me so I spun around.

Odhran stood right behind me, his brows lowered and a look of concentration on his face as he stared at the doorway.

“Lass,” he rumbled out, low. “It’s no’ safe for ye tae be here.”

I looked over my shoulder just as the male within the room stopped pacing. He heard us, knew we were there. The air chilled, became thick and tense and suffocating with aggression.

Odhran had my hand in his a second later and pulled me forward, making sure to keep my body in front of his.

I waited until we were a good distance down the hall before I asked, “Who was that?” Odhran glanced at me once, his hand tightening around mine. But we kept moving.

“That’s Lennox, one of the triplets of Banner and Luna.” He paused and lifted his free hand to run it over his mouth. “He was with us when we infiltrated and raided the Assembly facility in Vermont. He was wounded, and it was shortly after that, when he started to heal, that his…” I could see his eyes flash blue. “His wolf is gone.”

I didn’t understand what he meant. “His wolf is gone? I don’t understand.”

“You know how a Lycan male houses an inner beast?”

I nodded. “I know, so I don’t understand how his wolf could just be… gone.”

“No one is sure what happened, but assuming it’s from the trauma, his wolf has retreated far into the recesses of Lennox and hasn’t emerged. As you can imagine, it’s uncomfortable and frightening, and Lennox has grown angry and destructive because of it.”

“Will his wolf eventually come back?” I understood how Lennox felt, to an extent. To have something so integral and a part of your entire life just ripped away…

“I donna know, lass. I hope so. It’s a verra terrifying idea of no’ having my inner animal. It’s almost as painful as no’ having ye.”

I squeezed his hand in return but otherwise stayed silent and let him lead me down the stairs to the front doors where Banner, Luna, and Adryan and his mate stood. I could hear the other guests still in the ballroom.

Once we reached the landing, Luna stopped speaking with Banner and glanced my way, a smile on her face. Adryan had an arm wrapped around Kayla, his voice low as he spoke with Banner. I wasn’t focused on their conversation, but I did pick up that they were talking about the Assembly.

Once we were close enough to everyone, Odhran wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me snugly against the side of his body.

“I think it’s time for us to leave. It’s been an eventful day.”

Maybe a feminist would have scoffed that a male was speaking for them, but Odhran knew me well enough to understand that I was overwhelmed. I was ready to go home.

So I was thankful he took the initiative for tonight.

Banner gestured Odhran over, and when he was talking with the king and Adryan, I thanked Luna again for her hospitality.

She waved it off and smiled before saying, “You’re welcome here anytime. All the time. I love having a houseful of people. It fills in the empty spaces of loneliness.”

I loved that analogy and told her so. She glanced at Banner, and then up the stairs, where I could hear that rhythmic sound again. She sighed, and I knew it came from Lennox’s room. Clearly one of her sons was going through a difficult time and was so very lost.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured softly, and when she looked back at me, I could see in her eyes she was fully aware of what I was talking about. Her smile was sad and she nodded.

“He’s going through a tough time. I brought in one of the Lycan counselors, hoping to help Lennox, but…” She shrugged. “He doesn’t want to see or speak with anyone. He’s angry all the time, and his wolf…” She sighed. “I can understand why.” She held her hands out in an act of supplication.

Although I wasn’t a mother myself, I could see in her eyes she felt her child’s pain as if it were her own.

But her mention of a counselor did perk my interest, and I could see on her face she was desperate to change the subject and steer away from Lennox. “Someone was speaking with him?”

“Yes, we have a counselor in the community—only one, unfortunately. She’s come over and tried to talk to him, help him work through his anger and frustration, but he’s stubborn, just like his father.” There was a ghost of a smile on her face and she glanced at her mate. “I wish we had more options, but of course we can’t bring in anyone from the human world. It’s just not safe or realistic. They wouldn’t know the inner workings of our kind, of the Otherworld.”

I thought about speaking with someone about what had happened to me. But although it seemed like a strange concept, a little frightening to be so open and honest with a stranger, baring yourself in the most raw way that you became even more vulnerable, I wondered if it would help me in some way?

And I was pretty sure she saw that curiosity on my face, because a moment later she walked toward the small decorative table in the foyer, bent over to scribble something down on a pad, and then she was back, holding the slip of paper out to me.

I glanced down at the name and number she’d written and felt something shift in my chest. It felt like… hope.

Bronwyn Mikonovich, PhD

“She’s wonderful and she understands.”

I glanced up at Luna and could see in her eyes what she meant by that. She’d gone through her own trauma and knew how it felt, and how to work through it.

My heart was racing and I felt a strange kind of anxiety. Odhran was by me a second later asking if I was okay.

I stared at him and smiled before saying, “I will be.”

Chapter

Twenty-Seven

Odhran

I gripped the “oh shit bar” above the passenger side just as Larkin slammed on the brakes. I reached out with my left arm and placed it between her and the steering wheel, making sure her chest didn’t connect with it.

“Sorry,” she wheezed out, and I could see her white-knuckling the leather.

I chuckled and reached down to put the SUV in park.

We sat there in the comfortable silence I knew my girl liked so much. I knew she was somewhere else in her mind at that moment, as she gazed off into the distance.

Several days had passed since she’d been so strong and gone with me to meet Banner and Luna. And as soon as we’d gotten back to the estate, she confided in me that Luna had given her the number for a therapist who helped the Otherworld community.

I was frustrated to learn there weren’t any others to help our kind, and I wanted to change that, but didn’t know how. I’d never used counseling or help, never spoke to anyone about how I felt or what I was going through.

I used my aggression, my violence and anger to help me “heal.” And it wasn’t until I finally had Larkin back in my life that I realized I hadn’t been healing at all. I’d been going in a downward spiral of self-destruction.

“Is it normal to be this nervous?” she finally asked softly, and squeezed and relaxed her fingers around the steering wheel before finally placing them in her lap.

When she glanced over at me, I gave her a smile, one I hoped was reassuring.

“I think it is, darlin’. It’s something new. She’s someone new.” A very strong part of me wanted to hold her hand the entire time, be right by her side as she talked to the counselor.

But the bigger part of me knew she had to do this on her own. It was essential for her to move forward, to find some kind of peace within herself.

So I would stay back, force myself to give her the space she needed. I was an overbearing, possessive Lycan ninety-nine percent of the time, and now I needed to exert a loose hold around my girl.

She nodded but didn’t say anything else on the matter.

The following days after the dinner with the royal family, I’d been keenly aware Larkin had been distant, lost in thought. But I hadn’t pressed on what was running through her mind. I wanted her to tell me things when she was ready.

So I kept us both busy by teaching her how to drive, how to work many of the modern things in our home that she wasn’t used to, and of course ensuring she took time for herself.

She visited the cottage I’d built for her a few times, and whenever she came back she always had a smile and a weightless look in her eyes, which made me feel lighter because it told me she was feeling better.

“I’ve been thinking.” She looked out the front windshield and started biting on her lower lip.

My body instantly reacted. It was uncontrollable because my mate was so beautiful, especially when she was deep in thought, that brilliant mind of hers working overtime.

“I was thinking that maybe I’d like to go to school.” She looked over at me. “I don’t know anything about all of that, but after researching, I think…” She nodded slowly as if she’d come to a conclusion. “I think I’d really like to help people, Odhran. I think I’d like to be someone they can talk to, someone who will hear their voice and know what they went through.”

My grin broke out before I could stop it. “I think that’s wonderful, sweetheart. I think that’s fooking incredible.”

She started laughing, uncaring that I’d cursed, my girl having the most lighthearted spirit despite the darkness she endured.

I reached across and smoothed my thumb over her cheek, along her jawline, and touched her bottom lip. I felt so much happiness for her, and in turn it made me happy. Seeing my girl in a good place made me feel better than anything else.

I leaned in and kissed her. It was supposed to be something fleeting, soft, a physical gesture to show how happy I was for her, but like any time I touched Larkin, my wolf rose up instantly and I became aroused. My cock throbbed, feeling like a steel pipe in my jeans.

She moaned softly and opened for me. I plunged my tongue inside, stroking her, getting lost in the sweet flavor of her tongue against mine. And then I heard the gate at the front of the property open, followed by gravel being kicked up as a vehicle approached. I groaned in annoyance that I had to stop touching Larkin.

I rested my forehead against hers and for a second, we just breathed harshly. The scent of our arousal filled the interior of the SUV, and my cock throbbed again, my wolf growling, my mouth watering to mark her all over again. I saw the vehicle approach out of the corner of my eye and forced myself to pull back.

A compact car came to a stop in front of us, and the woman behind the wheel gave a bright smile and waved vigorously. Her hair was a mass of dark auburn curls that seemed untamable, and even from the distance I could make out the light gray of her eyes and splattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose.

Larkin noticed as well and started laughing. “I like her already. She’s enthusiastic.” Larkin leaned over and gave me a soft peck on my cheek, and then my girl was out of the car and meeting Bronwyn.

When the females smiled at each other and Bronwyn pointed to the forest, leading my girl into the woods, I stared at Larkin and watched her shoulders ease as she nodded.

I lifted a hand and rubbed the spot over my heart, the organ hurting in the best way. She didn’t have to say anything for me to understand she knew this was the perfect decision for her.

And I’d be there and support her every step of the way.

Chapter

Twenty-Eight

Larkin

I was pleasantly surprised when Bronwyn asked if we could do our first session in the woods.

“I love nature. The sounds of the animals, the smells of the trees and earth and fresh water nearby.” She stopped and tipped her head back, closing her eyes. “There’s nothing like being surrounded by all of this but knowing you’re free.”

I lifted my head and stared at the canopy, the breeze blowing the leaves, a bird flying overhead, and all the sounds of wildlife and nature that centered me unexplainably.

When I looked over at Bronwyn again, she was already watching me, this intense, yet open expression on her face.

“Tell me the very first memory you have, Larkin.” She gestured for us to keep walking, and so we did that in silence for long moments.

“My first memory?”

She made a sound of agreement but I kept my focus forward, thinking, drawing up my last memory and rewinding all the way back until I was a child.

“I was sitting on my bed and my sister was brushing my hair.” I envisioned that time. I hadn’t thought about it in forever. “We’d just gone to the lake. She was showing me how to swim.”

“What was your sister’s name?”

I exhaled as grief choked me up. “Brisa. It means breeze.” I laughed softly as I remembered when my mother told us the story of why they picked that name for her. “The weather was horrible when Brisa was born. Rain and wind. So much wind that shingles were flying off the roof, my father said.”

Before I knew it, I was telling her the entire story, reminiscing about things my father had said, how my sister would tease me. We walked until we found ourselves at the little cottage Odhran had built for me. The entire time, Bronwyn listened. She didn’t rush me, didn’t interrupt me. She just… listened.

“I’m not the conventional type of therapist,” she finally said after I was done sifting through all my memories and we stood at the water’s edge by the lake, the cottage behind us, a soft, warm breeze blowing. “Our kind, the Otherworld, it isn’t as if we’re conventional sort of creatures. Sitting in an office across from each other, with a notepad in my hand and asking rapid-fire questions isn’t going to help heal anyone.”

I looked down as the waves gently lapped at my bare toes. I’d taken off my shoes as soon as we got into the water, and let the healing properties of it help further comfort and relax me.

“I hope I’m not prying, but when Luna gave me your information, she mentioned you’d understand.” I didn’t specify on that detail, because as we stared at each other, her expression told me she knew what I meant. She truly did understand.

She nodded and slipped her hands into the pockets of her slacks as she gazed out over the lake. “We all have some kind of trauma in our lives, some of it not as intense as others. And some people can navigate their life around it, through it. But sometimes when the pain is too much, too unbearable, and lasts too long, it’s impossible to figure out how to live with it without some help.”

She glanced at me then and gave me a smile, one that was sad, one that told me she was part of the latter.

“And helping people is how I’m navigating mine.”

That sad smile turned into something of acceptance, contentment, and an empathetic pleasure that she was able to bring some kind of ease to others in their hour of darkness.

My throat felt tight and I had to quickly glance away, blinking rapidly as her words were so raw they ripped me open.

“Everyone has hope. Everyone has the promise of being happy, Larkin.” Her voice was gentle. I didn’t know what else to say, didn’t know if I could say anything at all.

We stood there for long moments, the gentle quietness of nature the only background noise we needed.

Before I realized it, our hour had passed and we were heading back to the estate. We stopped by her car and she gave me another soft smile. “I’d love to see you again, if you’d like that.”

I was nodding before she even finished.

“I’d like to start with a couple days a week, just so we can acclimate ourselves to each other and become familiar with how things are between us. I want you to be able to trust me wholeheartedly. I want you to be able to look at me and know that you can trust me with your pain.”

Before I realized what I was doing, I hugged her, whispering my thanks, feeling like I was doing the right thing.

“It’ll be okay,” she said softly, and tightened her arms around me before pulling back. “We are stronger than we think, than anyone else can ever give us credit for.”

With one more parting smile, she headed back to her car, climbed in, and drove off. I stood there for a second just watching her leave, standing still as the gates opened up for her, then closed back securely after she passed through them.

I looked over my shoulder to see Odhran standing by the front door, his hands in the pockets of his jeans, a concerned look on his face. I exhaled and felt so much pressure and weight lift off me.

It was now my job to make sure I followed through on the right path that would lead to healing, happiness, and a fulfilled life.

I was not only going to help myself, but I was going to learn how to help others, as well.

Chapter

Twenty-Nine

Larkin

I was gasping for air as my orgasm peaked for long seconds before finally tapering down. With one more slow drag of his tongue through my sensitive pussy, Odhran gave my clit a kiss, growling, abasing it so the vibrations had me gasping, and then he moved up my body to lie behind me.

He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me back so I was snuggled against his chest. A sigh of pleasure spilled out of me at the contact.

“What about you?” I murmured sleepily, sexually sated and content in the protective arms of my mate.

He kissed the side of my throat, right where his mark was, and I shivered in response.

“What about me?” His voice was muffled against my skin, deep and rough and filled with all the pleasure and love he had for me.

I could feel his massive erection digging into my bottom and squirmed, grinding myself against him until he growled and gently bit my earlobe.

“What about that?” I popped my ass out and felt his cock slip between the crease of my bottom.

“Mmm, this was about ye. I wanted tae get ye off. Ye know how good it makes me feel when I taste my female’s orgasm.”

I closed my eyes and made an embarrassing noise of pleasure, one that had a very satisfied male chuckle leaving him.

We sat there in silence for a little bit, with Odhran running the pads of his fingers up and down my arm. Goose bumps formed along my flesh and I snuggled in closer to him, loving that his big, warm body was like my own personal heated blanket.

He had one of his thighs thrown over both of mine, his bicep hanging over my chest. He was big and warm, a solid wall of hard flesh. And he was mine.

I still had nightmares, ones that occasionally tore me open and had me gasping for breath as I woke with a start.

But I was learning to work through them on my own. I was learning to deal with them and center myself to bring reality back and push out the fear.

And only when I gathered myself did Odhran hold me. I knew he needed it as much as I did.

“Do you ever think about your family?” My words were low and it took him a second to answer, but when he did, his voice was soft.

“I haven’t for a verra long time.” He was silent before he continued. “But when they first passed… Yes. I thought about them a lot. I missed them a lot.”

I ran my hand over his hand that was splayed across my belly.

“But then time moved on, life kept moving forward, and I accepted that this was the way of things. I grew, became stronger, fought for the king and protected my kind… then felt that bone-deep loneliness consumed me of no’ having my mate.”

My breath caught at the emotion in his voice.

“And then I found ye, sweetheart.” He kissed the crown of my head. “I found ye and I lost the only thing that meant more tae me than the waking sun.”

“Odhran—”

“I love ye,” he whispered. “I love ye so much that I’ll never let ye go, never stop making sure ye know how much ye mean tae me.”

“I know. Gods, I know and I love you so much for it. You’ve been there so I could heal, have helped me go in the right direction to get better. You’ve taken care of me, never rushed or pressured me.”

I saw this look of pure wonder on his face.

“You’ve helped me realize I’m stronger than I’ve ever given myself credit for.” I was silent for a moment just to catch my bearings, catch my breath. “You never made me feel like I was a burden, like my trauma held us back. And I know it’s not just because we’re mates and you’re bound to me by fate.”

I felt his heart beating steadily behind me, pounding against his ribs, loud and hard and spearing right into me.

“It’s because you’re a good male. And fate chose perfectly for me.” I looked over my shoulder and our gazes locked.

His erection, which had gone down once we started talking, was hardening against my ass once more the longer we stared at each other.

His gaze dipped to my mouth, and I slowly dragged my tongue over my bottom lip. Emotions were running high again, the room filled with the scent of our combined desire, and the gruff sound he made right before his eyes flashed blue had my own carnal need rising up almost violently.

“Odhran—”

“I know what my girl needs.” He ground his now rock-hard erection against my bottom and I moaned. “My female needs me tae make love tae her, doesn’t she.” It wasn’t a question.

I made a desperate sound of my approval and felt him slide his hand down my outer thigh, his fingers curling under my knee.

He lifted my leg and placed it over his hip, his mouth licking and sucking at the side of my throat as I felt his hand go between our bodies, then felt the tip of his erection notched at my entrance.

I was so wet I couldn’t stop moving, trying to impale myself on him. He groaned and gently bit my shoulder as he pulled back, gripping my waist to pop my ass out more, and then thrust inside of me in one fluid push.

My back arched, my nipples beaded, and I closed my eyes as pleasure rained down on me.

His groan mixed with mine.

“Tell me what I want tae hear.” His voice was distorted, vibrating against my skin as his thrusting was intense, never-ending. His fingers sank into my hip as he pulled me back at the same time he thrust upward, burying all those thick, hard inches into me.

Even after all this time, my body was still so unused to his penetration, at the feeling of stretching, of that incredible sensation of burning alive, of being filled. It was ever-present.

I bit my lip hard enough I tasted blood, a tangy flavor across my tongue. His other hand was suddenly gripping my chin and turning my head so he could kiss me. He plunged his tongue into my mouth, then sucked mine into his.

We both panted and groaned, his hips pistoning back and forth, the wet sounds of my body welcoming him… sucking at his cock loud in the room.

And then I came so suddenly, I saw stars and cried out against his mouth.

“That’s it,” he groaned, his lips still pressed to mine. “That’s my sweet girl. Ye make me feel so fooking good.” He groaned, grunted, and snarled as he pushed forward. “Do ye like when he’s here?” Another hard thrust upward.

I made a strangled noise of pleasure.

“Do ye like that I share ye with my feral beast?”

I couldn’t answer, couldn’t find my voice. I curled my hand around his thickly corded wrist, which rested on my waist, holding me still as he claimed me.

“That’s it. Show me again how much ye like it.” I gave him the sound he wanted. “Thatta girl.”

And then I was climaxing once more. He bit the side of my neck and buried himself fully in me as he went over the edge, coming long and hard and filling me up. I felt his seed, hot and thick, setting off another orgasm within me.

When we were both sated and panting, he stayed buried inside me and brushed the hair off my sweaty forehead.

“Mine,” his wolf growled.

I smiled and closed my eyes. “Yes. I sure am.”

Chapter

Thirty

Larkin

The scent of cooking meat was quite possibly the most horrendous thing I’d ever smelled, and I couldn’t understand why. I wasn’t against meat, and in fact had gone hunting with my father many times as a child, gathering supplies for winter: rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional deer when we found them.

But right now, as I stood in the kitchen entryway and watched Odhran prepare dinner, the spices not able to mask the scent of burning flesh filling my nose, I covered my mouth and felt nausea rise up.

I turned and ran to the nearest restroom, threw open the toilet seat, and heaved all the contents of lunch into the bowl.

With my stomach empty, I sat back on my heels and curled my hands around the seat, my eyes watering, my throat burning, and the very thought of cooking meat making my stomach roll again.

I felt Odhran’s big hand running circles around my back, and then I wiped the tears away and glanced over at him. The expression he wore was one that had my heart skipping a beat.

I pushed myself up and walked over to the sink. After cleaning out my mouth and washing up, I turned to face him. He had his hands shoved into the front pockets of his jeans, his stance relaxed, but his eyes were blazing with fire.

“Lass…”

He was barefoot, the denim fitting him to perfection, the white T-shirt showing off his defined chest and muscular arms. His short blond hair was a little mussed, as if he’d been running his fingers through it.

“I know,” I whispered even though he didn’t have to actually say the words. I instinctively slipped my hand down to place it over my belly. Odhran looked at where my palm rested, and I couldn’t stop the little choked sound that left me. We stared at each other for a suspended moment before I flung myself into his arms.

He wrapped his arms around me, his mouth by my ear as he murmured incoherently before saying gruffly, “A baby, lass.” His big body trembled and he let out a slow exhale. “I can smell the sweetness of it surrounding you.”

His voice sounded different and I pulled back to look into his face. I gasped at the expression he wore. It was quite possibly the most exposed, raw look I’d ever seen.

And then he dropped to his knees, pushed up my shirt to expose my lower belly, and I sifted my fingers through his hair as he rested his forehead on my skin.

He started whispering in Gaelic, and although I didn’t speak fluently yet, I picked up on a couple of words.

How happy I made him. How there wasn’t anyone as perfect as me.

He kept saying the word father and laughing softly. I tightened my hands on either side of his head and tipped it back so he was looking at me, and then I let the smile spread across my face.

“We’re making our own story, darlin’.” He gave my belly a soft kiss, then peppered kisses on each and every scar, letting me know with touch that I was beautiful and perfect in his eyes.

And that was what mattered.

He adjusted my shirt back in place and stood to immediately wrap his big, strong arms around me so I was within a cocoon of warmth and strength and muscle.

And then he kissed me, long and deep, until my body heated and I had to clench my thighs together to try and stem off the arousal.

I felt tears slide down my cheeks and he pulled back to brush them away, the pure happiness on his face so tangible it increased mine. I thought about how neither of us had family still alive on either side, and although we had a support system and those who cared about us in the community, it was still different. It was still lonely in the regard that we were the last of our line.

Until now.

“My happily ever after was always tied to you,” I said and launched myself into his arms, wrapping my legs around his waist and just letting him hold my weight as we both laughed.

I truly felt like that was the first day of the rest of our lives. The gift fate gave us. Because right then and there, with both of our traumas in our past, and the nightmare that we lived gone, destroyed, conquered, I knew it had all been worth it.

We were in each other’s arms and had this miracle that we created growing inside of me.

Even if getting here had been the most painful thing we’d ever experienced.

Nine months later

I’d never been so exhausted before, never felt so sweaty and grimy or… elated.

And as I looked at my mate, who I knew hadn’t slept for the past forty-eight hours since I’d gone into labor, I was pretty sure he, too, was feeling the exact same way.

And that was verified when he glanced up at me, dark circles under his eyes, fatigue weighing on him, and gave me the most blinding smile imaginable.

He said one more thing to the Lycan physician and nurse who’d come by to help with the delivery, and after sending them away, I exhaled as I felt the house become empty of everyone else so it was just the three of us.

My little family.

Odhran came over and sank to the floor beside the bed, lifting a hand to stroke the back of my head, his gaze trained on our baby.

Our daughter.

She slept soundly in my arms, unaware of the chaos of the world, of danger and heartache and pain. And I always wanted to keep it that way. I never wanted her to know how bad life could be.

“Brisa,” Odhran murmured and leaned down to kiss the top of her tiny head. She had a shock of dark blond hair just like Odhran, but aside from that, she was all me. We couldn’t tell if her nymph or Lycan side would be dominant, or if she’d be like other hybrids where neither side fully came forth and took over.

“Are you sure you’re okay with the name?”

He glanced up at me and smiled.

“More than okay. It’s beautiful, just like her, just like you, and I’m sure just like the female of her namesake.” He kissed me softly on the lips and was gazing down at our baby again.

I held my arms out, and he took Brisa from me before settling on the leather chair by the bed. I relaxed against the pillow and smiled sleepily at my mate. Brisa was so tiny in his massive arms, and I could see a little bit of strain in his composure.

“I feel like I’m going tae drop her,” he whispered.

I couldn’t help but smile. “You won’t. You’re the most gentle male I’ve ever met.” He leaned down and ran the tip of his nose along her little head, inhaling softly.

“She smells incredible, like light and warmth and sunlight.”

I knew exactly what he meant.

“Is it too soon tae tell ye I want a handful more just like her?”

I snorted but couldn’t help but feel pleasure at his words. “Me too.” He glanced at me and we held each other’s gazes for long seconds. “I love you.”

“My lass. I love ye so much it pains me in the best possible way.” He looked at Brisa again. “My girls. I’ll protect ye both with my life, with every ounce of my strength.”

I wiped away the stray tear that slipped down my cheek and nodded even though he wasn’t looking at me.

I lay there and just watched Odhran, listened to him start to hum that Gaelic song he’d sung to me when he was tending to me and letting me heal.

“I have something for you,” I said softly and Odhran looked up, a flicker of surprise on his face. I shifted slightly on the bed and held in my wince as my sore body protested. I tried to hide the reaction from Odhran as I knew he hated when I was hurt, even if right now it was unavoidable.

I reached into the drawer on the bedside table and pulled out the small white box before adjusting myself so my back was braced against the headboard. He slowly rose and made his way toward me, but not before he made sure Brisa was still snuggly swaddled. My heart softened at that sight.

When he was sitting on the edge of the bed beside me, I opened the box since his hands were full. The confusion on his face was instant before his gaze darted back up to meet mine.

“Yer necklace, darlin’?”

I stared at his thickly corded neck for a second before nodding and pulling the chain and anchor out and setting the box aside. “My sessions with Bronwyn are going really well, and we’ve been talking about so many things. I’ve felt so many things.” My heart started racing. “And after opening up to her, and to you, I knew what I wanted to do.”

He had this questioning look in his eyes before he glanced down at the necklace and realization filtered across his masculine features.

“It took me some time to really figure out the Internet so that I could buy a new chain, one that would fit your neck since we’d changed mine after you’d given it back to me. And then it took longer than I anticipated to actually get it here, but…” I licked my lips and glanced at my mate. “For so long I wore this necklace. It was the most special thing to me because it reminded me of my sister. But so much changed after everything. And then you held onto it like your own lifeline, your own anchor.”

His throat worked as he swallowed and I could see this almost discomfort settle around him. He always got this way when the past was brought up. But this was our life, who we were and how we’d gotten here.

And to be honest, I wouldn’t change any of it. Because we got that happily ever after, we got the love and the family and all the happiness we deserved because of what we went through.

“I want you to have this necklace, Odhran. I want you to wear it and keep me close to your heart like you did for all those decades.” He didn’t say anything but he didn’t have to. I could see so much emotion reflected in the depths of his blue eyes.

“Lass,” he said in a deep, strained voice.

I leaned forward and he came toward me so I could secure the necklace around his throat. I let my fingers rest on the anchor that hung over the center of his chest. “I’m always with you—”

“Ye always have been, lass.” Before I pulled away he kissed my temple and exhaled roughly. “Tha mo ghion ort.”

I smiled and briefly closed my eyes, resting my forehead on his shoulder as a wave of emotion slammed into me. Brisa stirred slightly, little baby grunts coming from her that made my heart swell even more.

“I love you with all my heart, too, Odhran.”

“Rest, sweetheart. I’ll watch over both of ye.” He leaned in and kissed me in the center of my forehead, and I gladly took his advice as I laid back down in bed and watched as my mate took a seat beside me and went back to gazing at our daughter and humming softly.

Over the last nine months, I’d been having bi-weekly sessions with Bronwyn. We always took walks in the forest and found ourselves at the lake. Over time I found myself opening up more and more about my time with the Assembly, the things they did to me, how it all made me feel. And every time I spoke on it, I felt a little lighter.

I knew I’d never fully feel light, never get rid of these thoughts or feelings. They were forever a part of me now, a scar that I’d see and feel, and one that would forever be on my body. But the thing about it was I had to learn to live with it in a way that would give me control over it, and didn’t stop me from enjoying this second chance at this precious life. And I’d even started a few online classes that would have me working toward becoming a counselor.

I wanted to help those in the Otherworld, wanted to be someone they could share their horrors and pains, their fears and happiness with. These were all stepping stones, pebbles skipping on the vast ocean that was my life. But it was a start. It was my start.

My eyes became heavy as I stared at Odhran and let the soft sounds of him singing, and of Brisa making soft newborn sounds, lull me into sleep. And I was pretty sure it would be one of the best sleeps I’d ever had.

Being happy, in love, and loving those closest to you, tended to make everything just… fall right into place.

Chapter

Thirty-One

Sebastian

The godforsaken, fucking sun.

I wove through the forest, feeling drunk, unable to think clearly, unable to see anything but blurred colors and shapes in front of me. The scents of charred wood and soot, burned skin and blood, filled my nose.

I teetered and slammed a hand out, my palm connecting with the trunk of a tree. My claws dug into the bark.

How long had I been out here, roaming around this goddamn forest in the middle of nowhere, fucking starving? Days. It had to be days, and the goddamn sun was literally sucking the life out of me.

Gods, I was hungry, my throat dry, the pain in my stomach like a thousand needles stabbing me over and over again.

After releasing the Otherworld creatures caged in the facility, and then creating a bloodbath with all the human fuckers who worked for the Assembly, I’d left the burning remains behind me and headed straight for the thick crest of woods that seemed to stretch out as far as I could see.

But it had been so close to sunrise by that time, and it had been too late for me to find shelter. The fucking shade from the thick trees helped marginally, but as time went on and the sun got hotter, brighter, my thirst rose up.

The pieces of shit that held me captive had starved me, so I was running on fumes at this point, with any reserve of strength I had long gone after the fight.

I was going to die out here. I was pretty fucking sure of it. But gods, I’d been alive a long time, and death, especially right now, seemed pretty damn welcoming.

I felt sweat pour from my hairline as I kept stumbling forward, the growls that came from me something I couldn’t stop. My entire body felt like it was on fire, like I was burning alive.

This was surely what fucking hell felt like.

And just when I thought I couldn’t go farther, I collapsed, hands and knees on the ground, body shaking… and so fucking thirsty.

I let myself fall to the side, the wind getting knocked out of me, a slice of sunlight peeking through the treetop. With what remaining strength I had, I lifted my hand and gave that burning ball of bullshit the middle finger.

And then I promptly passed out and welcomed death.

The sound of water dripping and the scent of damp earth was the first thing I was aware of. The second was the fact it was blessedly fucking cool and dark where I was.

Surely hell wasn’t this pleasant.

Despite the dark, dank interior of wherever I was, I was still too weak, my body feeling like a husk of hunger and pain. I turned my head when I heard shuffling to my right, but even opening my eyes was a chore, and my vision was far too blurry to see anything clearly.

Once my vision adjusted slightly, I could see the flickering of light close by. A fire. And then a shape, a shadow moved across from me. I bared my fangs, using every ounce of strength I had to try and push my upper body up.

And then I promptly cursed when my arms gave out from under me. Motherfucker.

I heard a voice. Feminine. But my hearing was so fucked that it was all jumbled.

And then I scented her. It was hard to make out anything aside from the fact that she was female. My mind wasn’t working at full capacity, I was too fucking weak, and all the other surrounding scents clouded too much. But as she got closer, her aroma became stronger.

Hyacinth.

“Calm down,” she said, and I bared my fangs again, holding out a hand to keep her away. I’d never been called a good guy and had killed my fair share in my long years of living, but right now she smelled too perfect for me not to hurt.

Good enough to drain dry.

I clamped my jaw the closer she got, shaking my head and squeezing my eyes tight. I opened and closed my mouth, trying to tell her to stay away but I couldn’t form a fucking word. I didn’t want to kill her but I was hungry enough I would.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

No, but I’m going to hurt you.

Gods, her smell.

My mouth watered at the very idea of how good she’d taste, how thick and rich her blood would be as it covered my tongue and slid down the back of my throat. My stomach cramped painfully, this stinging sensation covering my arms and legs, my fingers and toes.

My vision cleared for a fraction, my gaze now latched on to the side of her throat, where I could see her jugular throbbing.

I squeezed my eyes shut and threw my arm over them, the limb feeling like it was filled with lead.

And then she came closer, my fangs aching and every feral, predatory part of me telling me to drain her dry and become stronger.

She touched my arm and I snapped.

She was so good, better than anything I’d ever tasted, the sweetest wine. I flattened my body against hers and felt how soft and feminine she was.

Her blood rushed through my veins and I felt my strength rise up tenfold, growing and growing until it roared in my head.

And still I drank my fill, swallowing mouthfuls at a time. I could feel her struggle against me. But I was too greedy, too hungry to stop.

I moaned. She was tiny, soft.

She was…

Oh fuck.

I ripped away from her and panted, leaning back on my haunches to stare down at her. My heart was beating overtime, her blood rushing to every part of my body and knitting, healing everything from the inside out.

With every passing second my vision became clearer, crisper. I could see every minute detail in the dark cave, every little detail of her.

She had long cornsilk-colored hair, big seafoam eyes, and pouty red lips that were currently pursed as if she were… pissed.

And with each passing second, her horrified expression turned to one of anger. She lifted her hand and touched the side of her throat, and I lowered my gaze to stare as she pulled her blood-covered fingers away.

I touched my fingers to my lips, looked down at the digits, and a harsh noise left me as I saw that red covered the pads.

I’d just… I’d just attacked my female. I damn near fucking drained her dry.

“Get off,” she hissed.

I spied tiny fangs as she cursed me, but instantly rolled off of her. Her hair fell over her shoulder as she pushed herself up, and that’s when I spied tiny pointed ears.

“This is what I get for saving your life?” She narrowed her eyes at me before walking over to the fire and crouching to riffle through a bag. She pulled out a rag and pressed it to her throat, cutting a withering glare at me. “Who knew my mate was such an asshole?”

The End.

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