A Taste of Midnight
But it was the room he'd brought Danika and Connor to on the second floor that gave her the most unexpected jolt of surprise. A nursery. Unfinished, by the look of it. A wooden crib stood empty in the center of the cozy chamber. A tall chest of drawers stood against the wall to her left, beside a basket overflowing with a menagerie of stuffed animals and plush baby toys that looked like they'd never been moved. On the far wall, someone had begun painting a whimsical mural-grinning lions and monkeys, wide-eyed elephants and giraffes, frolicking together on a colorful, half-completed landscape of jungle trees and tall green grasses.
And, draped with a pale sheet in a forgotten corner of the charming little chamber, a rocking chair sat alone in the gloom like a specter.
"There are blankets and pillows in the chest," Mal said from beside her. "Use whatever you like."
When she turned to thank him, he was already gone.
A few minutes later, after settling Connor in to sleep, Danika made her way back down the curving stairwell through the heart of the castle. She could hear Malcolm in the kitchen at ground level, boots moving over the slate floor, cabinets be waing opened and closed. Warm yellow light seeped out from the open doorway as Danika approached.
Mal had his back to her as he scooped something out of a bowl on the counter into a plastic zipper bag. His black suit coat and leather weapon holsters were draped over one of the four chairs at the table in the center of the kitchen. Without looking at her, he asked, "Find everything you need up there?"
"Yes. Thank you." She stepped inside the rectangular kitchen. She looked around at the curved white walls, granite-topped cabinets, and glistening stainless steel stove that outfitted the place. "I remember when this room was just a vault and open fireplace hollowed out of the stone. You and Con would sit down here for hours, arguing philosophy and bragging of your varied conquests. As I recall, yours were often female related."
He grunted. "A long time ago."
"Doesn't seem that long, now that I'm here again," she said, marveling at how true that was. The span of time evaporated further when he turned to face her now, his stony gray eyes sober with concern. The sight of him here, in this place, after the danger they'd faced together just a short while ago, made her heart constrict. He walked toward her, holding the filled plastic bag in his hand. It dripped water off one corner, the snow inside already beginning to melt.
"No ice in the house, so I collected some snow while you were upstairs." He gestured to the table and chairs. "Sit, Dani. Let me have a look at that bump on your head."
She did as he asked. He walked with her, sinking down onto his heels as she took a seat facing him. She hadn't realized she'd been hurt until she felt the cold touch of the homemade compress against her brow. She winced, sucking in a sharp breath. In reflex, her hand went up to her forehead, where Mal still held the ice pack in place. His skin was warm beneath her fingertips, the feel of his strong bones and tendons burning instantly into her brain.
The touch lingered, too long.
Too heavy with unspoken, unbidden, meaning.
They were too close like this, intimately so. He crouched before her. She with her legs spread on either side of his large body as he leaned in to tend her. His face was level with hers, near enough that she could see the first glimmer of amber burning into the cool gray of his irises. Near enough that she could feel the air crackle in the few inches that separated their bodies, electrified with a palpable tension neither of them seemed to expect.
With a scowl, he pulled his hand away from her, placing the compress of melting snow onto the table behind her. "This wasn't a good idea."
Danika swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. "You mean helping me tonight, or&nbsp;..."
"All of it," he replied tersely, a thick growl that rasped through his teeth and the lengthening points of his fangs.
But he didn't withdraw from where he hunched before her, and his eyes remained fixed on her face, tormented and stormy. C an" aSmoldering with the same dark longing that had begun to kindle inside her. He snarled a curse, low under his breath. "I have to go. I have to get back to the club before Reiver notices I'm gone."
"Don't," she blurted, shaking her head when he started to move away from her. The thought of being left alone, just Connor and her, after the night they'd already had put a chill in her veins. And she couldn't bear the idea of Reiver possibly finding out what Malcolm had done for her and meting out punishment. "Don't go back there. How can you even think of going back now?"
"I have a job to do, Dani. Simple as that."
"Reiver is an animal," she reminded him. "He's a beast who trades in human lives. You said yourself he would've had me and my child murdered in cold blood."
"Yes," Malcolm agreed tightly. "Reiver is all those things. Worse, in fact. A pity you didn't realize that sooner, before everything went to hell tonight."
There wasn't much blame in that accusation. Rather, a stark dread. A fear in his eyes that his anger didn't quite mask. She searched that haunted gaze, hurting for him, wanting to understand who he'd become. "What happened to you, Malcolm? What happened to your face, to your name&nbsp;...&nbsp;to the man you used to be?"
"He's gone, as dead as you are now." His mouth was a grim line, a muscle ticking in the side of his savaged, beard-shadowed jaw. "A hell of a lot can happen in a few hundred years, lass."
"Yeah," she said. "I guess it can. I never thought I'd see the day that Malcolm MacBain tossed away his honor and his good name in order to serve someone like Reiver."
"We all make choices. And I have my reasons," he murmured. With that hissed reply, he finally did withdraw from her. Dark lashes shuttering his gaze, he rose to his feet.
She stood with him, nose to nose, refusing to let him shut her out. "Tell me."
"Let it go, Danika." The words were a deep rumble, coming from his chest.
But she couldn't let him walk away. She stared at him harder, pushing her wayward talent in his direction. "You hate him."
He didn't answer; but then, he didn't have to. His big body radiated loathing.
"It's not loyalty that makes you serve Reiver," she said. "It's rage. Isn't it?"
His thoughts answered her like a reflex: He took something precious from me. Everything I had. I will stop at nothing to make him pay.
Danika closed her eyes as the grief of that pledge sank into her consciousness. "Mal, I'm sorry."
He roared a dark curse, and then his hand Cthe1C;Mal,s were on her arms, gripping her firmly, hauling her into the shadow of his powerful body. Into the face of his fury. "Goddamn it, woman! Stay out of my thoughts." His grasp held tighter, his eyes bright and wild now, lips peeled back from his enormous fangs. "Why couldn't you have stayed the bloody fuck out of my life?"
Danika had never cowered before a man, not Conlan or any other Breed male. Not even Reiver, or the brutal messengers he'd sent to her cottage earlier that night.
But Malcolm's fury was a storm that slammed into her, stripping her of her courage. Buffeting her with a ferocity that left her shaking, breathless.
He was a dangerous man. Even more so because he was wounded, deep down. Festering with a hatred that was eating him alive. She saw that now. And something more in the searing amber fire of his eyes.
The interest that had sparked between them before was burned away now. Turned into something far more consuming as Malcolm's hot gaze bore into her, then slowly settled on her parted lips. Another thought arrowed from his mind into hers, uninvited this time, dark and startling in its carnality.
She could have told him to release her. As formidable as he was, as volatile and strong as she knew him to be, he would have taken his hands off her in an instant if she'd wanted him to.
But that wasn't what she wanted.
And he knew it as well as she did.
"Danika," he rasped thickly, eyes flaring hotly. Then his mouth was on hers.
The contact was explosive, staggering. It had been so long since she'd been touched, kissed, desired. Malcolm's lips seduced, demanded, claiming hers with a passion that stole all the breath from her lungs. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed the feeling, and even though a part of her had not let go of Conlan-might never fully let him go-the part of her that was still vital, still alive and warm and female, could not deny this need for comforting. For physical, intimate contact.
The fact that it was Malcolm kissing her now, his hands stroking her arms and throat, strong fingers slipping into the fine hair at her nape as he pulled her deeper into his embrace, deeper into his dizzying kiss, only made her need quicken even more.
He dragged his mouth to the sensitive skin below her ear, breath scorching, voice gravelly and dark. "Christ, lass. You shouldn't feel this good. I shouldn't want you like this."
She moaned her reply, lost to the same overwhelming need. For Malcolm. For the feel of his strong hands on her, familiar and yet so very new. No stranger could have stirred her the way he did now, and she let him sweep her into the current of his passion.
The edge of the table pressed into her backside; Malcolm's hard, masculine body hemmed her in from the front. Even through their clothes, the heat between them was undeniable.
The thick jut of his arousal was a heavy demand against her hip, a delicious friction that ground into her in a primal rhythm, his palms and fingers stroking her C sthe he breasts over the soft knit of her sweater.
Her hands craved to explore him too. She ran them up his broad chest, following the taut slabs of muscle that felt like iron beneath his dark T-shirt. The dermaglyphs on his bared biceps surged with the colors of his need. Dark wine, burnished gold, and deepest indigo pulsed like living tattoos, intensifying with each fevered beat of his heart.
When she lifted her gaze back to Malcolm's face, she found his expression fierce, his fangs stretched long and sharp, his pupils transformed to catlike slits, all but eclipsed by scorching pools of amber. That light flashed hotter when he reached between her thighs and rubbed the seat of his palm against the aching core of her body. Danika arched into his touch, panting as he stroked her, every nerve ending exploding in waves of hot need.
"Tell me to stop," he whispered thickly against her mouth, the sharp points of his fangs grazing her lips. "Tell me you don't want this."
But she could say no such thing. Her cry of mounting release was all she could manage as a dam inside her crumbled away like rubble under the skill of his touch. She broke apart, gasping his name and holding on to his thick shoulders as he pressed her spine down onto the table and covered her with his body.
Clothing came off in a rush, flung away in mere seconds.
And then they were naked together. Skin to skin, hands roaming over bare flesh. Mouths teasing, testing, taking.
Malcolm's thick sex cleaved the wet petals of her body, a heavy demand that made her thighs part wider to take him. He entered her with a curse huffed coarsely between his lips. His long thrust filled her completely, made her arch beneath him in boneless pleasure. His cock invaded and coaxed at the same time, aggressive yet careful, steel sheathed in softest velvet. In that fevered moment, she couldn't get enough.
Although they'd never kissed before, never touched-certainly never as they had tonight-he knew just how to move with her, when to push her to the edge and where to let her take control of their tempo.
She opened her eyes and saw a man she knew, a man she trusted with this fragile, needful reawakening of her body. "Malcolm," she panted, reaching up to caress his rough jaw and savaged cheek as he rocked into her with a relentless rhythm. "Oh, God, Mal&nbsp;..."
She didn't know what she meant to say to him. She didn't know if there were words. But then he kissed her and the need to speak left her. He drove harder, deeper, until another orgasm raced up on her and swept her over a steep ledge. He came with her. His shout of release was raw and possessive, taking with it her need to think, or to question how they could have ended up like this, together after lifetimes apart.
Naked and burning in each other's arms.
It wasn't until the roar of his orgasm subsided that Malcolm felt the full weight of what he'd done.
Sex, with Danika.
The widowed Breedmate of a male who'd been like a brother to him all that time ago. The woman who'd put herself in Reiver's crosshairs and was liable to derail Malcolm's entire purpose for living. A female he had no right to desire, let alone seduce-least of all at a time when neither of them could afford the distraction.
It hadn't been his intention to have Danika naked beneath him tonight. Far from it, in fact. Yet he couldn't muster the good sense to regret what had happened here.
Carnal, fevered, incredible sex.
And his greedy body only wanted more.
He stared down at her, laid out before him like an offering on the kitchen table.
Christ, she was beautiful. Milky skin and long, lean limbs. Supple curves in all the right places. He stroked his hands over her perfection. Brushed his fingers across her breasts and down her abdomen, where a small red birthmark in the shape of a teardrop and crescent moon stamped her as a Breedmate-a female meant for his kind, capable of bearing Breed young and bonding to one of his race eternally through blood. Only death could sever it.
The sight of that diminutive mark on Danika MacConn sent a jolt of possessiveness through him-unbidden, but hard to ignore. His fangs were still filling his mouth from the passion he'd shared with her. Now a darker need put a throb in his gums, made his amber-hot eyes burn brighter in his skull&nbsp;...&nbsp;made his pulse quicken with the urge to feed. To take her delicate throat in his mouth and pierce the pretty vein that ticked there.