“Let’s go,” he said, and grasped my hand, threading his fingers through mine. “This is over,” he said, and squeezed my hand. “For now.”
Together, we walked back to the hall, and Lucian bathed and got dressed. Lucian’s brothers cleaned up the aftermath, and Lucian explained to me what was to come. I can’t say that I was shocked.
“I’m verra sorry about your partner,” he said, folding me into his embrace. He rubbed my back, a rhythmic motion that calmed me instantly. “He was no longer himself—you understand that?”
I nodded against his chest. “Yes.”
He looked at me for a moment, searching my eyes. “There are others. From all over the world, no’ just Scotia. As you worked for WUP, your talents will be trifold as a MacLeod warrior. We go where we’re needed. We fight to protect innocents. And you are one of us now, Gin. Your skills will grow and you’ll become as fast, as strong as I.” He kissed me then, long, erotic, slow. When he pulled back, his gaze all but worshipped me. “But you’re not there yet, and I’ll no’ take any more chances with your life. You’re mine,” he whispered against my mouth, then brushed his lips across mine. “And I’ll no’ leave your side until you have full control over all of your new powers.” He rested his forehead against mine. “I canna lose you, Gin. You’re mine forever.”
Suddenly I’m Riley again, and I fall back as Scotland and wolves and blood and bone-crunching fade away, and the interior of Castle Arcos emerges once again. I stumble, shake my head, and press my fingers into my eye sockets to try and stop the vertigo from sending me sprawling. “Damn it,” I mutter, and then feel two strong hands steady me.
Surprisingly, they aren’t Eli’s.
“Please, lass,” a deep, heavily accented voice says quietly in my ear. “Please.”
I turn and meet the intense gaze of Lucian MacLeod.
A fast flash of his body morphing painfully into a wolf scrapes behind my eyes. I see it. I feel it. It’s like…I’m him. For only a brief second. Then he steadies me and turns me loose.
Lucian is a werewolf.
And so is Ginger.
The sincerity in Lucian’s gaze nails me. Paralyzes me. His words sink deep into my psyche, and never have I known myself to fall so hard for a plea as I was falling right this very minute.
“I’ll think about it,” I say to Lucian.
His gaze lingers, and I can only conclude that he’s trying to see if I mean what I say. Finally, he gives a slight nod and moves away.
“But,” I say, looking directly at Jake Andorra, “I want to know more about…your organization. As in, everything. As in, what would be expected of me.”
He smiles. “I shall tell you everything, indeed.”
“Ah, there you are,” a voice calls out. Smooth. Flawless. Powerful.
Immediately, I know it’s him.
He moves so fast, I don’t see him until he’s standing right beside me. Eli protectively pushes between us.
“Back down, boy,” Julian Arcos says. Gilles and Victorian have entered with him, and both stand a ways back. “I will hold counsel with Riley Poe. Alone.” His voice is cold, his gaze icy as he inspects me from head to toe. “Now.”
“Non,” Eli says, his fingers lacing through mine. His voice is harsh, determined, deadly. “Not without me.”
Julian Arcos passes a long, cold gaze over first me, then Eli. “Alone.”
Not only does Eli stiffen, but Noah, Jake, Gabriel and Lucian all take a step closer.
The male adrenaline in the room pulses.
“It’s okay, Eli,” I say, and move forward. I throw a glance behind me. “Guys, it’s all right. I’ll go.” He’s not going to do anything to me, Eli. With you, Gilles, and the others here? No way. So chill out. I got this.
Eli’s glare slides over me, and I know he’s on fire. Not only does he hate losing control to Julian, but his protectiveness over me has all but consumed him. I can tell. So I put a hand on his forearm, squeeze, and move in front of him.
Julian’s long silvery hair gleams beneath the lamplight as a chilling smile touches his mouth. “Come,” he says to me, and grasps my hand, tucks it into the crook of his arm, and without another word, leads me from the others.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated. He’s an ancient, powerful strigoi vampire with more control than even I can fathom. He’s evaded a vampire’s death for centuries. He’s badass and knows it.
I know it.
“’Tis true, my dear,” Julian says quietly, bending his head slightly toward mine.
I don’t even look back as we leave the great hall.
Julian guides me through the manse, down long corridors and up stairs. By the time we enter the room, I know I’ve lost my way. No doubt he’s done it on purpose.
The moment we enter the room, Julian moves away. Here one second, gone the next, and I’m pretty sure he’s doing it to freak me out. He continues to shift as he speaks. Shit head.
“Riley Poe. I’ve heard much about you over the years,” he says, appearing next to the wall of books across the room. He slides one out, examines it with long, elegant fingers as though completely uninterested in my presence. “’Tis all Victorian has talked about since his return home.” He slips me a glance and a smile. “Riley, Riley, Riley.” He sighs and replaces the book and looks at me. “I can now see why my son is so obsessed with you.”
I blink, and he’s gone. Turning my head, I search the massive room for his silver head of hair. He’s nowhere.
Then he’s everywhere.
“The power you have over him intrigues me,” Julian says in my ear. I snap my head to look at him and he’s gone again.
“How he’s controlled himself around you intrigues me just as much,” he continues. A long finger traces the black inked wing at my cheek. “What is it about you, Riley Poe, that completely drains my youngest son of all decent vampire capabilities? Do you know the power he exerted in order to keep from killing you once he’d tasted your blood?” His lips brush my cheek. “Myself as well?”
I try to move but nothing happens. I’m paralyzed, frozen in place. Only my mind races. I try to speak—even that doesn’t work. Senior Arcos has me under his power, and it’s damn strong. My eyes, though, work perfectly, and I keep them trained on Julian as he moves in front of me. I decide to speak to him in my mind. So you brought me in here, deep into the belly of your moldy old castle, far away from the others, just to suck the life out of me? Where I come from, that type of person is called a pussy, Jules. I’m just saying.
Julian stares at me, then laughs. “Of course not, dear. I merely wanted you to understand my position.” He inclines his head. “And to make you an offer.”
I stare at him, waiting.
He smiles. “If ever you tire of living the life you lead, Riley Poe, Castell Arcos could surely use a queen.”
What the hell? Julian Arcos is coming on to me? I continue to stare. Dumbfounded. Is it my strength? My powers? Our blood bond? Whatever it is, uh…no way.
Julian shrugs as he hears my thoughts. “For Victorian, one day.” He strokes my cheek. “Or for me. And the answer is yes to all of your own questions. We’d be…invincible together.”
Thanks for the offer, Jules, but I’ve got a life already and I’ll keep it, if it’s all the same to you.
Julian’s icy gaze moves over me, slowly. “As I said. If ever you tire of the life you lead.” His gaze lingers on my mouth. “And I fear, my dear girl, with all of the powers inside of you, one day, you will.”
Our gazes clash and lock.
“In the meantime, make sure my eldest is returned to me, unharmed,” he says. “And one more thing. Valerian will not be an easy foe to capture. Mention his mother and you may have a slight advantage, even if momentarily.”
I blink, and Julian Arcos disappears.
My body relaxes, and I’m in control once more.
And Julian Arcos has just given me a tip on how to catch his son.
Easing from the library, I slip out into the ominous hallways of Castell Arcos.
“Don’t mind Father,” Victorian says from an adjacent alcove. “He likes you.”
“Yeah, I got that,” I say, and look at him in the low light of the sconces. “You’ve been out here the whole time?”
Victorian shrugs. “Of course. I wasn’t about to let Julian Arcos take you into the bowels of the castle alone.” He grins. “Not that he would’ve harmed you. But he may have frightened you.”
For a long moment, I stare at Victorian Arcos. Not in a million years, especially after that first night in Bonaventure, when the Arcos brothers both took my blood, would I have ever dreamed he was anything other than a filthy bloodsucker. He seems kind, loyal, and loving. So very different from his brother. So very different from your typical vampire, actually.
“I am different,” he says, his smile wistful. “Yet it’s not enough.”
I’m guessing that, since my latest DNA donors, my mind is an open target for most, if not all, vampires. I’ll have to investigate that. Possibly see what I can do to change it, as it annoys the hell out of me.
“Enough for what?” I ask.
He takes a step closer. “To win your love.”
The play of light in the brown depths of his eyes as he watches me almost paralyzes me. “I feel something for you, Vic. I just don’t know what that something is. It baffles me, but there is a connection there. But of one thing, I’m absolutely positive,” I say. “I’m in love with Eli. My loyalty lies with him alone.”
A slow, wistful smile lifts the corner of his perfectly shaped mouth. He lifts a hand, pushes a stray strand of hair from my face. “Your bald honesty is only one of the things that fascinate me about you, Riley Poe,” he says, his elegant fingers lingering on my jaw. He leans in, his eyes searching mine. “Allow me just this one private good-bye,” he requests. “I’ve waited…forever.”