A Taste of Midnight
To drink from her and bind this female to him at last.
That urge boiled past his lips on a low growl.
Danika's dusky blue gaze lifted to him, and he could only hope her ability hadn't betrayed his thoughts to her. "Come, lass," he rasped, disengaging from her heat to take her into his arms.
He lifted her up and carried her away from the table, striding naked with her, out of the kitchen and up the castle stairwell to the master bedroom on the second floor. His bedroom. The one he hadn't set foot in for months.
Not since he'd buried the ruined pieces of his old life and his quest to destroy Reiver began.
He brought Danika into the room and set her down on the king-size four-poster bed. The thing was a relic, only a couple hundred years younger than he was. Its headboard, canopy, and carved supports were made of tooled black walnut, its thick down mattress cloaked in creamy sheepskin coverlets and wool blankets woven in MacBain red and black. Danika looked sexy as hell in the middle of it, propped up on her elbows, one slender leg bent at the knee.
Malcolm wanted her all over again.
Her heavy-lidded gaze raked his naked body and she gave him a knowing smile, all the invitation he requir Kionn he red.
He prowled onto the bed and covered her, sank back into her welcoming warmth. He made love to her slowly this time, properly, the way a woman like her deserved to be pleasured. When they were both slicked in clean sweat and sated again, he stretched out alongside her and gathered her close. He stroked her pretty breasts, caressed her delicate throat and jawline. Tried to will his eager, all-too-obvious erection to heel. An exercise in futility when Danika reached down to touch him, wrapping her fingers around the shaft and tenderly petting its length.
He groaned, savoring the feel of her hands on him. His curse was raw in his throat, as dark as the guilt that was suddenly rising up on him. He'd been able to push it aside so long as his senses were consumed with need, but now it gnawed at him.
Danika's touch went still. She was looking at him in concern now, forehead creased. "What is it, Mal? Am I doing something wrong?"
"No." He cursed again and brought her hand up to his mouth to place a kiss in her palm. "Nothing you've done is wrong. As for me&nbsp;...&nbsp;Christ." He met her searching gaze, hated that he was making her think she was at fault somehow. He couldn't keep his hands from seeking her out. His fingers craved the feel of her the same way his cock longed to be back inside her. "I feel like I'm betraying Conlan when I touch you. I'm betraying him by wanting you&nbsp;...&nbsp;now, as I did then."
She stared at him in silence, a flicker of surprise in her eyes. "You wanted me?" She gave a small shake of her head, dismissing the idea with a quiet laugh. "As I recall it, through all your travels and exploits at the time, there was hardly a woman you met that you didn't eventually charm out of her virtue."
"But not you. And you were the only one I loved," he confessed, too late to bite it back.
He and Conlan had been friends for years, neighbors for even longer. They'd defended their lands together, rode into battles as a single force, as brothers. But as close as they'd been on the field and in duty, the two Breed males couldn't have been more different. Malcolm craved adventure and was always ready to chase it. Conlan was the steady one, the reliable one. The one most deserving of an extraordinary female like Danika.
Mal could still picture the night he and Con first saw her-the golden, Nordic beauty and adopted daughter of a powerful Darkhaven leader from Copenhagen. She was in Scotland on sojourn, independent even then, a mere girl of eighteen, staying with Breed relations in Edinburgh. Mal had wasted no time making introductions, seeking to impress her with stories of his travels all over the world and his dangerous exploits.
But it was Conlan who eventually won her over. Calm and considerate, steady Con.
"You were so unsettled, always unpredictable," she remarked now. "You would have broken my heart."
"Probably," he admitted. "But I was an idiot then. I didn't realize what you meant to me until Con confided that you and he were to be mated."
She swallowed, scarcely breathing now. "I never knew."
"Would it have made a difference if you had?"
Her eyes fell away from him for a moment, considering. "No, it wouldn't have. Conlan was a good man, a good mate to me through all our time together. I loved him completely. I always will."
Mal nodded, even though the words tasted bitter. "He honored you well. As I knew he would."
Danika reached for him now, her fingertips light on his clenched jaw. "Con's gone, and I'm still alive. I still mourn him, but I can't tell you that my heart isn't glad to be looking at you now, Malcolm. I won't deny that it feels good to be touching you, to be lying here with you, like this. I didn't realize how alone I've felt this past year until I had your arms around me." She stroked his scarred cheek, the pad of her thumb brushing tenderly over the poorly healed knife wound. "Conlan's not the only one you feel you're betraying here tonight, is he?"
He turned his head to avoid the contact, wishing he could avoid reliving the failure that earned him that brutal gash. Before Danika had a chance to prod his mind for answers, he mentally slammed the gate down hard on his past. Locked it behind a wall of cold fury. "I don't want to talk about that, Dani."
"You have an unfinished nursery upstairs," she murmured, sitting up with him when he started to move away from her on the bed. "You obviously don't live here anymore, or haven't in quite some time. And even though I can tell you're blocking me from your mind right now, downstairs in the kitchen, your thoughts gave away that you lost someone you loved. I know you're grieving and angry-"
"I said I don't want to talk about it," he snapped harshly. "All of that is personal."
She exhaled a quiet scoff. "There's nothing more personal than what we shared tonight. How can telling me about your past-about the mate it's obvious you loved and lost-be more intimate than this?"
"Because the less you know, the safer it will be for you." He swung his feet to the floor. "I have to go. I've been away from the club for too long."
Danika swung off the bed before he could, putting herself in front of him. Her hands were on his shoulders, her eyes searching his. "How long have you been plotting to kill Reiver?"
Mal hissed a curse. "Just drop it, Dani."
He felt her push harder at his mind. A determined prod, and then she was inside his thoughts, pulling the truth out of him against his will. "Seven months," she whispered, staggering back on her heels. "You've had to look at him, work for him&nbsp;...&nbsp;all this time. Why?"
"Because I needed to get close to him," Mal ground out. "I needed to ge K ne>
"What happened to your Breedmate, Mal?" Danika reached out, smoothed her hands over his scarred, broken face.
"Have you told anyone at all?"
He shook his head, mute for a long moment as the memories swelled, black as acid. "I hadn't planned to take a mate. I'd been alone for so long, I'd gotten used to my freedom. I fed from human females, found pleasure with more than a few. But I made it my habit to steer clear of the women with this damnable mark," he said, tracing the edges of the Breedmate birthmark on Danika's trim belly. "But then I met Fiona. She was sweet and gentle and innocent-just a girl of twenty-two. Everything was fresh to her, everything a new adventure, something magical. She looked at me in much the same way, like some kind of goddamned hero from a fairy tale. I had centuries of living behind me, battles won and lost. I looked at Fiona and realized I'd forgotten what it was like to be so carefree and open."
Danika gave him a tender, wry smile. "You were never either of those things, Mal. Brooding and enigmatic, yes. And devastatingly charming, in your own grim way."
He nodded, unsure why it should come as such a surprise that Dani would know him so well, even after all this time. His mouth quirked with humor, despite the gravity of his memories. "I tried to keep that cynical, world-weary side of me away from Fiona. Figured I'd let it out a little at a time, lest I scare her off too soon."
"But she didn't scare away," Danika said, holding him in a gentle gaze.
Mal shook his head. "No, she didn't. We were together less than a year when I found myself falling in love with her. We blood-bonded, making our home together here at the castle. It wasn't long before she asked me to give her a child. She was only a few months pregnant when&nbsp;..."
Danika's breath hitched in her throat. "You lost them both at the same time? Oh, Mal."
"She'd gone to Edinburgh to pick up some custom-made bedding-something to match the mural she was painting on the nursery walls." He grunted, throat still rough with regret. "It was morning, so I stayed home. As it was, I'd been working on a surprise for her that I hoped to finish while she was gone. The rocking chair was almost finished when I felt a jolt of terror through our blood bond. Fiona was in danger, in pain. And I was trapped in this bloody fortress by the sunlight burning outside its walls."
Danika swore softly, pulling his head against her breast.
"I'm so sorry, Malcolm."
"I called her cell phone," he murmured, remembering all too vividly the fear that had gripped him in those frantic first moments. "I called six times, a dozen&nbsp;...&nbsp;it K6;&;&nbsp;irang unanswered. I had no choice but to go out and look for her."
Danika's heart thudded beneath his ear. "In broad daylight-knowing it would kill you?"
"I didn't care. I went on foot to the city, the fastest means of reaching her. I followed her through our bond, into the crudest of Edinburgh's slums. It was near noon, and my skin was turning to ash. But she was alive, and I still had a chance of saving her." He shook his head. "I wasn't in the city more than a few minutes when I felt our connection go still. It severed, and I knew she was dead. I'd failed her."
She sat down next to him on the edge of the bed. "You did all you could, Malcolm. More than anyone would expect."
"No," he said. "Not yet. But I will do right by her. I don't know how long I stood there in the street after she was gone, sensing my flesh was burning but feeling only the emptiness of loss. But then dark clouds moved in and a heavy rain started. It bought me time, which I used to search the city. I looked for her until I found a drug dealer who'd heard of a pimp scoring large off finders' fees for pretty young women-even some men and children-in demand by a client of particular tastes."
"Live human game," Dani breathed. "For Reiver and his blood clubs."
Mal nodded. "I never knew such rage as I did when the pimp who took Fiona coughed up Reiver's name. It was the last thing he did. He admitted attacking her that day. He'd grabbed her a few blocks away from the shop she'd visited and took her back to the filth of his flat, where he'd arrange for her sale. But she fought him. She fought for herself and our baby. The pimp had a knife. She tried to get away, and he stabbed her through the heart."
"Oh, my God." A tear streamed down Danika's cheek.
"The bastard used that same knife on my face in the moments before I crushed his skull in my bare hands," Malcolm said, his voice flat in his ears. "Part of me wanted to go after Reiver right away. I wanted swift, brutal justice. But Fiona was more important. I couldn't leave her in that place, with that human garbage. So I brought her home. I buried her here that same day, and I swore to her that Reiver and all those who funded his operation would pay with their lives. I won't rest until I've destroyed them all."
"And so you've forced yourself to serve those same men. All this time." Danika was looking at him, sorrowful, almost pitying. "But at what cost to yourself, Mal?"
"At any cost." He got up hastily, tension riding him for the unplanned, unwanted baring of his soul. "It's late, Dani. I can't risk more time here. I want you to stay put at the castle while I'm gone. I'll try to come back before daybreak."
He didn't wait for her to agree. He stalked toward the adjacent bathroom, willing the shower on with his mind, leaving Danika in silence behind him.
Reiver was waiting for him when Malcolm arrived back at the club.
"Busy night, Brandogge?" Reiver was in the public room of the establishment, reclined on a leather sofa, his dress shirt and suit pants unbuttoned. With him was a topless brunette under one arm, a blonde scantily clad in a red lace bra and panties under the other-club regulars whom Reiver kept in frequent rotation in his own personal stable. The women were in his thrall, puncture marks still faintly visible on their necks and limbs, hands roaming all over him as he watched Malcolm with shrewd, untrusting eyes. "I looked for you a couple of hours ago. Thane mentioned he thought you went out for a bit. An important errand or something, he guessed."
Thane, the ass-kissing bastard. Was he worried Mal might be his chief competition as Reiver's right arm? Little did the other guard know what Mal had in store for their employer. And if he got in the way when the time came for Mal to make his move, he wasn't opposed to taking Thane out too.
At least he'd sent the feminine diversion as Mal had asked. For that alone, he was tempted not to wish the guy dead in the fallout yet to come.
And whatever Thane's intentions, Mal knew better than to let Reiver think he had him caught in a lie or betrayal of trust.
"I went out to check on Packard and Kerr," he volunteered. "I didn't tell Thane where I was going, since I wasn't sure you'd want anyone else privy to your instructions where the woman was concerned. I figured Thane would know if you wanted him to know."