Lyal cursed the damn Norse gods. Even in death, the selfish beings had managed to find a way to control his life. Lyal’s fixation on this woman proved it.
He hadn’t talked to her. Hadn’t kissed her. Hadn’t taken her blood. Hadn’t even looked into her eyes. Hell, several hundred feet had separated them. There was no biological explanation for the growing demand for her blood he’d experienced since walking away from her in Greenland.
Yet he did. He freaking yearned for it. For her.
His fangs slipped into place, and saliva filled his mouth. Instinct took over. He skimmed his parted lips to the slender column of her throat. The rush of her blood called to him. His heartbeat picked up hers. Fear probably caused her rapid pulse, but it didn’t fuel his. Temptation did.
The object of his obsession was at his mercy. His predatory nature relished her vulnerable state. He wanted to feast on her. She’d be his ambrosia, an addiction he’d never kick.
The sole source of his life.
He clamped his mouth over her neck and pressed the tips of his fangs to her skin. One bite would seal his fate.
The day he fed on a woman was the day he chose his eternal mate. The Norse gods, or maybe the Mist, his species’ element, had taken the choice out of his hands and tied him to this female.
He turned his head away and cursed his luck. His cousin Rune had gotten a noble and loyal mate. Not Lyal. He got stuck with a two-faced, thieving con artist.
He squeezed her wrist harder, tearing another gasp from her throat.
“Drop the knife, little girl. My patience is running thin.” So was his control. If he snapped, she’d be the one to suffer. He wouldn’t be able to guarantee the feeding would be pleasant or leave her breathing at the end.
“Who are you?” Although the question was posed in a low voice, her tone held a demand.
He kept the truth to himself but couldn’t deny it. His growing intolerance to blood made his connection to her undeniable.
It pissed him off.
He would not blindly accept the female chosen for him. He’d done so once before. Worst mistake of his life. He’d barely managed to get his dick to rise for his consort. And talking to her? Yeah, that had been pure torture. Arina had viewed him inadequate in all things and hadn’t been afraid to tell him.
“If you’re not going to answer me, get off me. I can scream loud enough to get the guards down here. Then, they can arrest both of us.” His little thief’s irritation added a sharp bite to her words.
He shifted his body slightly and pressed his lips to her ear. “Don’t bother threatening me. You don’t want the guards to know we’re here any more than I do.”
“Is that what you think?”
Her whispered question added an intimacy to the moment he would’ve rather avoided. It didn’t take much to picture them naked and tangled in passion.
“Yes.” He brushed his lips against the spot right below her ear. She shivered. The response appeased his primal nature, even though he knew it wasn’t real. She suffered from the same carnal manipulation he did that demanded they mate and make their bond permanent. “You could’ve screamed the moment I grabbed you or when I squeezed your wrist. You didn’t give in to your fear or your pain.”
“You’re right. Anger feels better. Too bad I couldn’t have shoved my knife in your chest instead of your thigh. Then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You’d be dead.” She snorted. “Well, you’d be dead, if I could find your small, shriveled heart in that huge chest of yours. Not sure that’s possible.”
He grinned. She might not be the woman he would’ve chosen had he been given a choice, but her attitude was refreshing. Weak women irritated him. “Do you make a habit of attempting to kill people who are trying to stop you from committing a crime?”
“Killing isn’t my preferred choice, but I’ll do what I must to succeed.”
“What is so important that you’d take such a drastic step?” As soon as the question was out of his mouth, he regretted it. Admitting he didn’t know why she’d decided to break into a museum gave her power. She could lie, and he’d never know.
“Probably the same thing you’re here for. Treasure.”
In that respect, she was right. Her definition of treasure would differ from his, however. The humans who carried the power of the Norse gods were the only ones that mattered. With the final Ragnarok closing in on them, losing the gifted humans to the diseased eldjötnar wasn’t acceptable. Nikki and those like her were the only ones capable of wielding the gods’ magical items and turning their mates into powerful weapons.
“I do enjoy beautiful things.” He twined his fingers with hers and stretched her left hand higher, taking away any opening she had to attack him again. Losing more blood wouldn’t help him control his hunger. He needed every drop of blood if he had any chance of resisting her. “And you, Nikki, are the definition of beautiful.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know many things about you.” The lie came easily. Thanks to her stepbrother, Stephen, Lyal had learned some facts about her, including her penchant for infiltrating companies and stealing valuable information, among other things. Unfortunately, Lyal had gotten too sick from feeding on the male to extract more details. He’d absorbed enough to direct him to this museum, however.
“Then you know I won’t concede the book to you. Ever.” She bit out the last word.
A book? How much money could she get for a book?
“It doesn’t matter what you want, Nikki. You’re mine, and anything that belongs to you is also mine.” At least until he could pawn her off on one of his cousins or friends. Tying her to another male was the only way he’d be able to break their connection. Hopefully. Otherwise, he’d be joining his deceased brethren in the afterlife.
“You heard me. You’re mine, and I’m taking you home with me, even if I have to toss you over my shoulder and carry you, kicking and screaming.” He curled his right hand around hers so they both held the knife. “Now, do what I say before I lose control and do something we’ll both regret.”
“No. You’re going to let me go before I snap and do something I’ll regret.”
“Sorry, cupcake, not happening. You can kiss your freedom good-bye. You’re now a casualty of war.”
“War? What war?”
“The one you were unlucky enough to be born into.”
She made a frustrated sound. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
He supposed it wouldn’t. Too bad he didn’t have the patience to explain more. Cat, Rune’s mate, could fill Nikki in on the details of her new life. “It will after I take you back to my home.”
“You’re kidnapping me? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Escorting. Kidnapping. Call it what you’d like. Doesn’t change the outcome. Your thieving days are over. So is your freedom.” Whichever male accepted her wouldn’t stand for her dishonorable and mischievous ways or allow her to wander without protection.
“I see. Well, since you asked so nicely, how can I refuse you? Besides, being owned by a barbarian is my goal in life. I’ve always wanted to walk around barefoot in animal skin while feeding my man hunks of meat and tankards of mead.”
She eased her grip on the hilt before he could question her sarcastic response. Her attitude didn’t matter to him anyway.
He released her hand and flicked the blade across the floor. She took advantage of the moment and elbowed him in the stomach. The punch caught him off guard, tearing a groan from him. Her second thrust didn’t budge him, but she didn’t give up. She wiggled, twisting her body and straining against his hold.
“Calm down, Nikki. I’m—”
Her shoulder popped, a sickening sound that heaved his gut.
“Would you calm down and listen to me. I’m not your enemy.” He pushed to his elbows, giving her the space she seemed so desperate to gain. She flipped to her back, flinching as she hit the ground. “I’m—”
The knife sliding between his ribs stopped his words. Pain whipped through him, adding to the constant gnawing hunger he experienced. He ignored both and grabbed her wrist a second time. Where did she keep getting weapons?
“Drop it.” The demand came out garbled. Blood filled his mouth. She’d gotten him good. An undeniable surge of pride rose. His little thief wasn’t a pushover. She’d make one of his brethren a fine mate. “You’re not going to—”
Her knee connected with his groin. His vision blurred, and his breath rushed out. Agony whipped through him. He cursed and toppled to the side. The urge to curl into a ball warred with his determination to get Nikki back to their new, secluded compound in Maine.
She scrambled for the door. He grabbed her ankle and yanked her back. She cursed and kicked at his arm. His patience snapped. He unleashed his will on her, demanding her obedience. “Be calm, Nikki.”
She relaxed under him. Her breathing and pulse returned to normal under his command.
“What are you?”
Her whispered question drew his gaze to her. Wide-eyed, she stared at him. Fear didn’t show on her face. Excitement did.
He pushed to his feet and turned his back on her. He doubted she’d strike out at him again, not with the interest in her gaze. She looked at him as if she’d just found a new toy. Seeing her response confirmed his guess as to which god’s power she carried.
Loki, the trickster god, the god of thieves and con artists, and the god who’d turned him into a laughingstock in front of all of Asgard.
“I’m your guard until I can drop your pretty little ass off at our compound in Maine. After that, I’ll be nothing to you.”