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Chapter 17

Emily kneaded the big ball of dough while she listened to the kitchen helpers' gossip. She'd woken early, alone in her bed, but the scent of Lachlan had clung to the plaid. Even without that, she would not have been able to convince herself he had been a dream. As unreal as the events of the night should have been, her memory of it was as solid as those she had of her family.

And she had the inescapable feeling that he was now as much a part of her as they were.

She could leave the Balmoral clan, but she would never leave him behind completely. He would live in her heart through eternity. How much less complicated her life would have been if she had felt this way about Talorc on first sight, instead of the deep certainty that she did not belong with him.

What a muddle.

Why had Lachlan come to her, as a wolf no less? She'd been asking herself that question over and over again all morning and she still could not come up with a single reasonable answer. Except that maybe his wolf's instincts had led him there because of what had happened between them just before she went to bed. Even if that was the case, such an action exhibited a level of trust she knew the man could not have for her.

Yet, he had come to her as a wolf. He'd let her touch him, pet him, and he had kissed her like a wolf kisses. Then he had lain beside her until she slept. Probably longer.

She still did not understand what she had felt when his tongue caressed her skin, but it had been extraordinary. As singular an experience as the explosion of pleasure he had brought about in her body earlier, but quite different from it as well. It had not been sexual or at least not entirely so. It had felt good, but it had also felt bizarre.

As if part of his life force was mingling with her own.

And yet, just as he'd said he would not he had not come to collect her for a swimming lesson. It was as if the night before had not mattered to him at all. Perhaps he had not felt the connection she had felt.

"I think that dough is done, lass," one of the older women said to Emily.

She started and looked down. The white mass did indeed look sufficiently kneaded. She patted it into shape and set it aside before taking another ball of dough and placing it on the work space in front of her. She punched it down from its first rising with more than necessary force.

She did not understand him, not one little bit. First he said she meant nothing to him and implied she was a nuisance, then he touched her like a lover. He'd been so careful with her when he carried her up the stairs after giving her the ultimate in pleasure. Like she mattered only he said she didn't.

Then then he had come to her as a wolf. That was the most inexplicable thing of all. She hit the ball of dough again with her curled fist even though all it needed now was to be folded in on itself a few times.

"I told Marta not to assign you household chores."

Emily made a face at the ball of dough and muttered about high-handed lairds before looking up. Lachlan was watching her, his expression less than pleased, his big warrior's body making the kitchens feel like a small area in a way that several helpers and she did not.

"She didn't."

His dark brow rose hawklike in a silent demand for clarification.

"Cait has been put in charge of household matters in the keep. She instructed me to help with the bread-making."

"She instructed you?" he asked in a deadly soft voice she did not understand.

"It is only fair. I instructed her to take a nap after we finished assessing the contents of the food storeroom."

"Why were you doing her chores with her?"

"She enjoys my company. She does not think I am a nuisance."

"Until you told her to take a nap," he said, his face solemn.

"She didn't consider me a nuisance then, just annoying, and she did not tell me to help with the bread-making in retaliation. She knows I like to keep busy."

"As does she, I'm sure."

"She needed the nap."

His brows rose at her snapping tone. "Did I imply she did not?"

"No," she said grudgingly. "A pregnant woman needs more rest anyway, but she was yawning every other breath. I don't think she got much sleep last night."

In fact, she was sure of it.

Emily had flooded Cait with questions until she understood the full moon hunting ritual and all that it entailed.

She'd learned that although Cait had not hunted with the other wolves, she had stayed up late to share a meal with Drustan. She'd blushed in the telling and Emily assumed that a meal wasn't all she had shared with her husband.

Emily hadn't told Cait about Lachlan coming to her chamber. It had seemed too private a thing to share, even with a friend as close as a sister.

"She is lucky you care for her like you do."

"I am blessed by her friendship as well."

From the sidelong glances she and Lachlan kept getting from the other women in the kitchen area, she guessed her conversation with their laird was highly intriguing to them.

Lachlan looked at the other women and then back to Emily. "I want to speak with you."

She folded the dough over itself and then pressed it firmly together. "I'm almost finished kneading this."

"It can wait."

"No, it can't."

Two of the women at the table gasped and one stared at Emily bug-eyed, no longer making any pretense of not listening. Emily pretended not to notice and continued with what she was doing.

"Dare you refuse me?" he asked, sounding mean.

She grimaced. "You said you liked my plain-speaking."

"I did not say I liked disobedience."

She was not a child to obey without question, though she knew many men saw women that way. As arrogant as he was, she did not believe Lachlan was so shortsighted, but she would take that up with him later. "I did not disobey. I merely told you the truth. If I don't finish kneading the dough now, it will not rise properly. The other women are all busy with their own chores. Would you have me leave mine undone because you have not the patience to wait a minute longer?"

"You have the makings of a termagant, do you know that, English? You remind me of my grandmother."

"Your father or your mother's mother?" she asked as she continued to knead.

"My father's."

She reminded him of a femwolf then. That was interesting, wasn't it? "Did you call her a termagant?"

"Think you I am a fool?"

She shook her head. "Far from a fool."

"Good. Our discussion will be easier if you do not make the mistake of believing me stupid."

"That sounds ominous."

"I wonder why, unless you have secrets you seek to hide?"

Did he know about Talorc? Had Cait told Drustan after all? She had said nothing, but Emily had hardly given her the chance, she'd been so busy asking questions about the Chrechte. Then they had been around others and forced to discuss less sensitive topics.

"Everyone has secrets, laird."

"Mayhap. I will know yours, English."

"And will you tell me yours?" she asked, meeting his gaze directly for the first time since he arrived in the kitchens.

"I already have," he said softly.

A strange sensation settled low in her belly at his look and she swallowed. He was not going to pretend that the night before had been a dream. He would not deny coming to her. Perhaps he would even explain why he had. The day was suddenly much brighter.

She patted the dough into a ball and covered it with a light cloth. "There, that is done. The wait was not so bad, was it, laird?"

"Nay."

Encouraged by his less surly manner, she hurriedly washed and dried her hands before turning to face him once again. "Shall we go?"

He did not respond, but merely turned to leave. She followed. He led her back to the keep and into the great hall, but he did not stop there as she expected. He continued up a set of wooden stairs to a landing much like the one in her father's keep. Beyond it was the solar, but he did not stop there either. He led her into a bedchamber dominated by a giant bed covered with furs and a plaid.

"Why are we here?" she asked in a squeak.

He closed the door with a resounding thud that seemed to echo through the chamber even though her ears told her it really had not. "Privacy."

"Werewolves can hear what humans cannot."

"Yes, but I'm wondering how you know this."

She stared at him, mute. She could not betray Cait's confidence.

"Actually, I'm not. You could know only one of two ways. Either Talorc told you, or Cait. I'm guessing it wasn't the laird. It had to be his sister. She put a great deal of trust in you."

"We are like sisters," Emily whispered, praying he would not punish Cait for telling her. "Talorc should have told me."

"He refused to marry you. There was no need."

"But Cait was within her rights to tell me."

"Because you are like sisters?"

"Yes."

"She put her life, the lives of her pack in your hands."

"I won't betray her, or you."

"I know, but it amazes me she does. I would not tell another warrior, even one I called friend."

"But you would tell your brother."

"Yes."

"There, you see."

"I see that you and Cait are very lucky in your friendship."

"I agree." But she liked hearing he thought so much of her heart-sister. She licked her lips. "I thought you would try to pretend you had not come to me last night."

"I thought you planned to tell yourself it was a dream."

"It didn't work. You left your scent behind and you don't leave me in my dreams." She hadn't meant to admit that, but she did not regret doing so. Her feelings were paltry things if she was ashamed to admit to their existence.

He sighed, his eyes filled with emotions she could not decipher. "I cannot keep you, Emily."

"Because I am human."

"I have a duty to my clan and to my pack."

"Your father married a human."

"And had a human child."

"Ulf."

"Yes."

"We know our own kind."

She wrinkled her nose in consternation. "I can't tell the difference."

"Because you are not one of us."

The words had a chilling impact on her senses. "No, I am not one of you."

"Bloody hell, Emily. I do not want to hurt you, but it is the way it is." He looked angry, but she could not understand why.

She had asked for nothing.

"I know. Truly, I do, Lachlan." Refusing to give into cowardice, she said, "I still want you."

An expression that was almost frightening in its intensity came over his face. "I want you, too, but I cannot take you."

"Why? Cait said you don't practice the same mating laws her clan does."

"Her clan is now the Balmoral."

"You know what I mean. If you take me, we are not wed like the Sinclairs."

"Nor would the Sinclair laird ever wed you then."

"Do you want him to?" she asked, not sure what she would do if he replied in the affirmative.

"No!" He growled and it was no human sound his throat made.

She shivered, but did not mind his ferocious reaction. That was something at least. "I already told you I cannot give myself to him. And he doesn't want me anyway."

Besides, the other laird probably already thought she'd given herself completely to Lachlan. She'd been naked with him and she was now convinced Talorc was aware of it.

"You are a virgin, Emily."

"And you aren't." Was he thinking she did not have the experience to give him pleasure like he'd given it to her?

She could not argue that point, but she was certainly willing to try. Eager even. But she was not so desperate she would say so. She had to maintain some semblance of pride here.

He laughed. "No. I am no virgin. It takes the physical act of mating to give a member of our pack control over the change. As you said, our ways are not the ways of the Sinclairs. We allow noncommitted mating to further the interests of the pack."

"Then why won't you make love to me?"

"You are not a femwolf."

"Are you saying Balmoral werewolves never have sex with human women without the benefit of marriage?"

"No, but there is the risk we will true-bond."

"And you don't want to be bonded with me."

He sighed, but then his expression turned hopelessly grim. "No."

She turned away, the pain of that single word as bad as when her father had shoved her away and called her a useless female child who had caused the death of her mother. Father had wanted a son and she had been a disappointment to him by right of her birth. She was not good enough for Lachlan either.

She had not been born a femwolf and therefore she had no lasting value to him.

"All of our children could be human, not just one. Don't you understand? Every time a Chrechte and a human mate, they risk not passing the wolf nature on."

"And that is so important?" she asked, but she knew it was.

Just as she'd known that being herself had never been enough for her father, Sybil or even her other siblings. Abigail was the only one who had loved Emily for who she was.

"How can you doubt it?" Lachlan demanded in a fierce tone. "We are a special race and to lose that race because we do not care enough to pass our full natures on would be wrong."

She wanted to cry, but she wouldn't. Tears did nothing but relieve some of the ache, and right now, she knew they would not even do that. He was not telling her anything surprising, only hurtful, and that pain would not leave her for a long time, if ever. Wasn't there still a corner of her heart that craved her father's love?

She could never have it either, but that did not mean she had to give up on everything. Was not a small taste of joy better than nothing at all? "You said there was pleasure you could show me without breaching my maidenhead."

"Yes." His voice sounded strangled.

She turned to face him, but did not meet his eyes. "I want that. And I want you to show me how to give you the same kind of pleasure you gave me last night."

He made a feral sound. "Emily"

"What?" She met his eyes then, searching for she knew not what. Certainly she would not find love there, or even unconditional acceptance, but perhaps passion. "Do you not want even that much with me?"

Heat flared in his dark gaze. "Yes. Damn it. I do."

So, at least there was the passion. She was glad because she intended to use it to hide from the pain tearing apart her insides. She had never allowed herself to hide from truth, but right now she planned to do just that. She planned to pretend, for just a little while, that his passion was love.

He would never know and it could not hurt him, but she needed to feel loved just this once. She would live the rest of her life on these memories as she had clung to memories of her father's kindness before her mother's death all through her growing-up years.

Every touch would be motivated by love and a desire that matched her own, every sound would be one of acceptance for her as his lover, every response he evoked that of the beloved. She chanted the litany over and over in her head while she waited for him to kiss her.

But he did not.

He reached out and ran his fingers through her hair, his touch so gentle she could barely feel it. "It's so soft, so beautiful. My wolf wanted to bury his muzzle in it last night."

She swallowed, storing the loving words in her heart as a treasure no one else could tear from her, not even Lachlan. "He can do it now if he likes."

"You don't mind?"

She shook her head, then watched in fascination as he slowly divested himself of his plaid, revealing himself to her with breathtaking sensuality. He stood before her in all his naked glory. His manhood was engorged and she felt a sense of relief that they were not going to make love completely.

No matter what he thought, they would never fit together, she was sure of it.

"Do you like what you see?" he asked.

She nodded, mute.

"But you still want to see my wolf?" Inexplicable vulnerability to her rejection shimmered in his gold-rimmed eyes.

"Yes."

Then, so fast, she had no idea how it happened, Lachlan the man became Lachlan the wolf.

She'd never seen anything so wondrous, even in her imagination. Not to pass such an ability on to his children would be a tragedy. She remembered her wonder the first time she had seen a shooting star, but this was even more glorious. How incredible that God had made a people capable of such a feat.

She felt privileged to have witnessed the secret miracle. Lachlan had given her another unique gift and she would remember it forever.

As a man, he was everything any woman could desire. As a wolf, he was utterly beautiful. His pelt was glossy black. She'd thought so last night, but moonlight wasn't reliable for revealing color. He was also huge, standing almost as tall as her, but on all fours. His eyes were the same brown with gold around the irises, but they looked sharper.

His head was big, like the rest of him, and he held himself with a regal bearing that reminded her of Lachlan the man. Just as he always had seemed more than a man, he now seemed more than a beast. Human intelligence glowed in his wolf's eyes.

He watched her intently with those eyes, as if waiting for something.

She could not think what at first, but then it occurred to her that he might be waiting for her to show she was not afraid. Was he waiting for her invitation to touch? Deciding that must be it, she dropped to her knees and put her hand out, welcoming him to come to her.

He padded across the floor, the strange noise he'd made the night before rumbling in his chest. He stopped mere inches away. She tilted her head back and he lowered his so their eyes met.

His spoke secret messages to her heart that she labeled love and a tiny curl of joy pushed some of the pain out of her heart. He licked her cheek delicately and only then did she realize she had allowed a stray tear to escape.

The same sense of connection as the night before shimmered between them and she labeled it love, pushing another chunk of pain deep into the recesses of her heart.

He butted her shoulder gently as if asking for something. She smoothed her hand over his muzzle and the top of his head. He stood still, letting her pet him until, with a small smile, she rested her hand against the side of his neck.

"You like to be touched."

He nodded his big wolf's head and then sat back on his haunches in a single graceful movement.

"I do, too," she admitted. "When you are the one doing the touching."

Did wolves smile? She thought he did because when he bared his teeth, she felt no menace from him. Then he did what he said he'd wanted to, burying his snout in her hair and inhaling deeply. The rumbling in his chest grew louder. She dug her fingers into his fur and massaged down his back. He gave a short bark of approval that made her smile.

They stayed like that a long time, him nuzzling her hair and neck and she petting him and reveling in the incredible miracle of his wolf's body. She told him how beautiful she thought he was and how amazing. The rumbling in his chest got louder until it vibrated through her body as if he was sharing his pleasure with her.

She was not a wolf, but she felt as if she were inside him and he were inside her.

Without warning, he changed again and he was on his knees facing her, his arms around her and his lips trailing a path of burning kisses from her temple to her mouth.

When he reached it, he kissed her with such sweetness, tears pricked her eyes. "Thank you for accepting my beast, Emily."

"How could I not?" she asked in genuine bewilderment. "He's a special and very wonderful part of you."

He kissed her again, his mouth harder and more insistent until she was melting against him. He pulled his mouth away from hers, but she could still feel his breath on her lips. "I think you are the wonderful one."

"But not special enough to bear your children."

They both went still. She hadn't meant to say that. It was a reality that threatened to crack the fragile shell of fantasy she had surrounded herself with. She could not allow that. She didn't want to give up this taste of joy and pleasure for a reality that could not be changed for a reality she had known only too well for far too long.

"Please forget I said that."

"I'm sorry."

She knew he meant it; she also knew he hadn't changed his mind. "It's all right. Kiss me again. I want to feel your lips on mine." She wanted to forget the truth of their relationship and she knew, as she had the night before, that he could give her that forgetfulness.

"Gladly." And he did, the kiss going from tender to carnal in the space of heartbeats.

Whatever he did not feel for her, he wanted her as much as she wanted him and she reveled in that knowledge, feeding it to her heart in the game she played with herself until the pain was almost completely eclipsed by the pleasure.

He pulled back, breathing hard. "I want you naked, Emily."

She had no thought of demurring. They stood together in one accord and then stepped back from each other. She wasted no time taking off her tunic and then her shift, exposing her body to his scorching gaze.

In one of those lightning quick movements that still startled her, he crossed the distance between them, picked her up and carried her to the bed. He pulled the plaid away and laid her back on the furs. The softness felt incredibly good against her skin and she moaned.

He smiled wickedly and started kissing her again. He used his tongue this time and she loved it. His big body rubbed against her, increasing her ardor to a fever pitch and he had not even touched her as he had on the previous occasions.

When she was moaning over and over again and thrashing below him, he began to kiss his way down her face, stopping at the pulse beating frantically in her neck and sucking there.

Liquid heat pooled between her legs. "Lachlan."

"I am marking you," he said in guttural voice. "When others see this love bite, they will know you are mine."

She was so far into her game of make-believe that she was not sure if he actually said those words or if she had made them up in her mind, but she didn't care. He had marked her and he was rubbing his body all over hers in a way that seemed strange, but excited her, too.

His mouth traveled to her chest and he licked her where his wolf had kissed her the night before. The feelings his touch elicited were not the same though. This time all she felt was pure sexual pleasure and she whimpered with need.

He kneaded her breasts with knowing movements until her nipples were turgid and aching. His hot mouth closed over one and he began sucking, flicking the tip with his tongue. She cried out and arched toward him. He pinched her other nipple and then began rolling it between his thumb and forefinger with torturous slowness. It felt so good that tears of joy seeped out of her tightly closed eyelids.

Her legs spread of their own volition and she tilted her pelvis up to rub herself against him, but she could not find the relief she sought. She needed his touch there, like the night before. Mindless with her pleasure, she demanded it in a voice raw with desire.

He pulled his mouth from her nipple with a pop and laughed, the sound diabolical. But she felt no frisson of fear at the implied threat, only anticipation of what he would do next.

His hand slid down her body until his fingertip was right above where she most needed it to be. "I will touch you down there, my sweet mate, but not like I did last night."

His mouth forged a scorching trail down her body until his face was between her thighs. She was beyond embarrassment and could do no more than express her need with guttural cries. He gently separated her tender, swollen flesh with his fingers and then pressed his mouth against her sweetest spot in a kiss of homage before licking her with one long swipe.

She lost all sense of who she was or what he was doing at that moment. It all became sensation upon sensation. The feelings inside her spiraled tighter and tighter as he did things with his lips, teeth and tongue that made her body jerk and shudder. She cried out her love for him as the storm of passion howled inside her, lifting her body into a bow.

All at once, everything inside her clenched in a crystalline moment of excruciating pleasure. Then her body clenched again and again in a series of increasingly strong convulsions until she could not bear it. Yet she could not stop moving against his mouth either.

It was too much. Too wonderful. Too amazing. Too intense. As the indescribable pleasure spiraled to a peak of sheer perfection, she lost the final thread connecting her to this new reality of being a Chrechte warrior's lover.


Chapter 16 | Moon Awakening | Chapter 18