MacRieve Read online

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  Woods of Murk, Scotland


  In a dark forest, in a dour land, stood an enchanted cottage. Within it, Uilleam MacRieve was about to bicker with his mate, Lady Ruelle.

  Yet again.

  As the blizzard outside gathered its strength, Will sat on the edge of her bed, wearily preparing for battle.

  "Just once more, my love," Ruelle sighed, letting the silk cover dip to reveal her bare breasts.

  In the past he'd have stared agog at that generous flesh; now he scowled at her antics. "You know I canna stay. " Always with these antics. Could she not tell how deep she'd already drawn from him this eve?

  " 'Tis hours till dawn. " She rose up on her knees to purr at his ear, "I needn't keep you long. " Her words were accented with the flavor of distant realms.

  In these northern lands of the Lykae, Ruelle was a rarity, a foreign female who dressed in lace and silks and had no skill with a sword. She lived alone here in the Woods of Murk-a place of fairy rings and curses, of portals to different planes and creatures of old that even Lykae feared.

  Only a dare from other boys had coaxed Will's feet into that eerie forest the first time.

  "Once more?" He rose to wash, doubting that he had another bout in him. Nay, not a bout-that would imply two contenders. "And after that, you'll demand yet another. " Even if he was physically capable, he needed to get back to Conall Keep before his family realized he was gone. "Already I've yielded to your wishes. "

  At her basin, he gazed into her oversize mirror-his Ruelle could be a tad bit vain-and spied her behind him. In the firelight, her hair appeared burnished, her cheeks and lips rouged to match, the colors stark against her milk-white skin and gray eyes.

  She pouted prettily. Everything she did was pretty, even lovemaking-unlike the trollops his older cousins routinely tupped in the hayloft.

  Afterward, those wenches would be heavy-lidded with satisfaction, even as they looked like they'd just gone to war in the hay: faces and chests flushed from exertion, hair and clothing disheveled.

  Ruelle never looked like that. With a pang, he admitted to himself that she had never been completely . . . fulfilled when he'd left her.

  She often cajoled him to mate her again and again until he was exhausted. "Look at you-who can blame me?" she'd ask, explaining that his kind was like catnip to her, that his face alone made her sigh. One time he'd jested that she was trying to kill him, and she'd grown cross.

  Sometimes being with her was like a swim in chill water-enlivening, until the deep threatened to pull you under. On occasion, he struggled to breathe when she had him beneath her, his lungs seeming to shrivel up.

  Which was a shameful weakness. Ruelle was beautiful and sensual-any lad would count his blessings to be in her bed. And she was his mate. They were both sure of it.

  "You could eat again. " She waved to indicate the banquet she'd prepared for him, sweets and delicacies that were rarely allowed at his home. He shook his head, had already eaten his fill.

  In the beginning, she'd gotten him to glut himself. With a laugh, she'd pinched his slim fingers and declared him underweight.

  Now he said, "Ruelle, nay. I'm leaving. "

  " 'Tis your own fault for being so tantalizing. " She ogled him as he washed thoroughly. Early on, she'd warned him that his family could smell her on him.

  "You're the one insisting that we keep this secret. If I could tell my da-"

  "No! That's not possible. " She paled beneath those tinted cheeks. "They will never accept what's between us. "

  "Then I must be there for chores. " He had work to do at sunrise, and his twin brother, Munro, was already suspicious of Will's sneaking away late every other night.

  "You come from one of the richest families in the land-the Sentinels, for gods' sakes-and still your father makes you work like a serf?"

  "Da believes it builds character," Will said, pulling his tunic over his head. The garment was tight, hugging his chest and arms. He and his twin were both growing like weeds, too fast for the harried seamstress at Conall.

  He gazed at his own reflection and ran a hand over his lean face. Still no whiskers though?

  "Ah, Dughlas MacRieve, the great Lord of Conall, says it builds character? Your father is mistaken-your character is already built! And finely too. You are a man in your own right. "

  "I know I'm a man," he averred, while thinking, I might no' yet be a man.

  Nay, of course he was. Whenever Will and Ruelle quarreled, he comprehended that he was truly maturing-a grown Lykae. Adults bickered; they had concerns and cares that the young did not.

  Yet if he was grown, why couldn't he satisfy her? A flare of anger took him by surprise. "If you have call to criticize my da, you should do it the Lykae way: to his face. " As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. Her species was made to love, never to fight.

  The idea of Ruelle openly criticizing someone so much stronger was laughable.

  As if on cue, her gray eyes misted with tears. She even cried prettily. "You know I cannot do that, can never show my face to them. They will kill me, just for what I am. "

  His parents wouldn't necessarily welcome her into the pack with open arms, but surely Ruelle exaggerated about their reaction. "No Lykae would ever harm another's mate. We revere matehood above all things. "

  "What if they don't believe what we know to be true?" She pulled the silk covers over her breasts defensively. "Why do you continue to argue with me?"

  "Because keeping this secret for so long sits ill. " Lately it'd been weighing on him more and more, but he'd at least wait until after his mam gave birth to her bairn before revealing his secret. She was a couple of months along, just starting to show. Her "three braw lads"-as she called her husband, Will, and Munro-all sensed she carried a daughter and were ecstatic about the fact. Mam wanted to call her Isla.

  A wee lass to spoil? Even now Will's lips curled with anticipation. He and Munro could scarcely wait until she was old enough to learn how to hunt, to fish.

  Aye, his family needed no tumult now. Best to get back. He quickly donned his boots. "We'll speak of this in the future. "

  "No, we will not. " Her gray eyes flickered to jade green, usually the only sign that her emotions were running high. "If you can't respect my wishes in something so important, then do not return for four nights. "

  Will froze. The fire in the hearth crackled. The wind whipped snow against the windows. "You doona mean it. "

  "I do. "

  "Four!" he bit out in disbelief. "You'd punish me thus?" The longest he'd gone was three. He'd barely survived the sickness.

  "I wish that you hadn't forced me to. "

  "I forced you?" Everything was always his fault. When he'd panicked during their first time making love and wanted to wait, she was not to be denied-and it was his fault for being "irresistible" to her. He'd wanted to bring home all the gifts she'd given him-mainly to lord them over his twin-but she'd refused: "Your parents will suspect; it's not my fault that you were born into a closed-minded family. "

  And now he was to go the better part of a week without returning. At the thought of the agony he'd soon experience, his Lykae beast stirred. Though his da, uncles, and older cousins were training him to harness that wild force within him, Will unleashed it each time Ruelle mated him.

  "One day, Ruelle, you will push me too far. "

  "Oh? And then what will you do?" she asked with a triumphant look, for they both knew the truth.

  He was bound to her for eternity. Doubly so-not just because she was his Lykae mate, but because of the tie he'd willfully borne after three visits to her bed.

  He was f