Malkom braced himself for her disgust, even as he knew he shouldn't give a damn what she thought. She had wronged him.
Still, as he watched her seeming to formulate a response, he regretted telling her. He could not take her disgust, could not bear it from her -
"I appreciate your confiding in me about your past," she finally said. "It explains a lot. But it doesn't affect my feelings at all."
He exhaled a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Then his anger fired. "How can you say that?" he snapped. "Your words are false, meant to deceive me again. How could you not be disgusted?"
"I'm not. I feel pain for what you've suffered and want to comfort you, but my feelings for you haven't changed in the least."
Maybe she didn't understand how bad it'd been. How dishonorably I behaved. "I scavenged refuse, eating from filth. I murdered my best friend, the only one who was ever good to me in my entire life." He grated, "I behaved as if I loved every second the master violated me, acted as if I were eager, craving whatever he and his friends did to me."
Though she didn't gaze away, her eyes watered. "I wish I could have saved you from that. Could have rescued you from him."
He shot to his feet. "What is wrong with you, woman?" He ran his hand over his face. "No, I know. You treat me just as I treated my master, feigning love to gain protection, acting as if I do not disgust you."
"I'm not feigning anything, demon! You were a child! You did what it took to survive. And thank the gods you did. You grew into the noblest, bravest man I've ever known. Because of your strength and will to live, you were here to save me and an innocent little girl from dying."
Noblest? Malkom shook his head hard. "You said the mortals wanted me, a Scarba, because I am uni"ue. You and the girl might not even have been taken but for me."
"I may have been a pawn, but I believe they wanted Ruby anyway. She was going to be captured regardless. And if not for you, she would have died that night. Why don't you remember events like that?" She gazed at the sky, then turned to him once more, her eyes stark. "I regret hurting you, but I do not regret being sent after you. The very thought of never knowing you makes me feel sick inside."
He clenched his fists. It does me, too. What would it take for him to lose this knot in his gut, this bitter doubt?
I do not want to feel this way anymore....
When he didn't reply, she rose. "Malkom, I'll go. But there's something you should know." She waited until he'd met her gaze to say, "If you told me these things to drive a wedge between us, then you've failed. All you've done is make me care for you more."
Which makes no sense to me! After dredging up all these memories, he ached inside. He wanted to hurt her, to shake away that mask of concern and empathy. I will never believe again.
As she turned back for the cabin, his hand shot forward, snagging her ankle to pull her to the sand. "I'm not done with you, wife."
She twisted around to face him. Instead of being outraged or wary, her expression was fierce. "Good, because I will never be done with you, Malkom." She eased her hand to his face, resting her palm against his cheek. Her eyes began to soften as she gazed up at him.
Every time she looked at him like that, his rancor grew. "The only reason you accept one like me into your bed" - he forced her hands over her head, pinning them with one of his - "is that you know you will be vulnerable without my protection." He recognized this as well as he would his own harsh reflection in a pool. "And when you are safe in your home, you will have no need of me."
"That's simply not true."
"Prove it," he said, his voice cruel. "Prove to me why a highborn woman so fine as you" - he clawed her shirt open to expose her breasts, giving each a brus"ue s"ueeze - "would want to lie with a male like me."
"Malkom, I want to lie with you because I desire you so much."
At her ear, he rasped, "You truly crave the bastard son of a whore rutting betwixt your pale thighs?" After tearing off his own shirt, he shoved her skirt up to her waist, baring her sex. "Wouldn't you be suspicious, if you were me?" He yanked his pants down to his knees, then maneuvered his body over hers.
"I crave you. I always will."
When he positioned his cock at her entrance, she began panting, growing wet for him, which only infuriated him more.
"You like being fucked by a Scarba?" He wrapped her hair around his fist. "Look at me! Truly look. Tell me what you see that others cannot!"
"I see my husband."
With a yell of frustration, he entered her with one unrelenting stroke. Though his thoughts were in turmoil, pleasure rocked him. He threw back his head, biting back a groan.
She gasped at the intrusion, sucking in a breath. Then she whispered, "I love you."
He stilled, gazing down at her. "What did you say?"
The demon's body was a mass of tension, like a bomb about to explode, but she still repeated, "I love you, Malkom."
"Shut up!" He shoved inside her so hard, her teeth nearly clattered.
"But I do."
"Stop saying that," he commanded, bucking his hips, driving his shaft deep within her. He looked down at her as if he hated her, as if he wanted to punish her for loving him - even as she could sense his emotions, could sense how much he yearned for her too.
"Are you trying to hurt me?"
He "uaked above her. "It'd be nothing more than you deserve." His flickering eyes were filled with more pain than she'd ever seen in another. Then his gaze fell to her neck. "If I bit you, would you still tell me you love me?"
Yes, always. "Try it and see."
"You'd probably come for me again. Isn't that right, witch?"
But instead of taking her neck, he went to his knees, releasing her hands. Gripping her ass with splayed, clutching fingers, he positioned her so he could sink even farther inside.
Seated deep, he pumped inside her like a piston, his rigid muscles flexing under sweat-slicked skin. She tried to raise her hips up to meet him, seeking his next determined thrust, but he was too strong.
The friction ... his growls of pleasure ... the thick heat swelling within her.
Just watching his body move like this was about to send her over the edge. Her hands were drawn to him, palms caressing his sheening chest, then dipping down his torso.
With each of her strokes, with each of his relentless plunges, tension built inside her, spiraling, until she throbbed. "Demon!" she cried, desperate for release. Her head thrashed as the pressure within her gathered, readying to explode.
At last, the pleasure seized her. Scorching. Boundless. "Ah, gods! Malkom, yes!" Her back arched, her nails digging into his hips, wanting more, wanting him even deeper.
"I feel you," he bit out between clenched teeth. "Feel you coming round me." At the last minute, when she was certain he'd remain within, he jerked his hips back.
With an agonized yell, he shoved his shaft over her belly, mindlessly grinding atop her for his final shuddering throes.
When he collapsed over her, she gazed above him at the misty sky, tears welling as she hurt for him - hurt with him.
At her ear, he grated, "I'm still not done with you, wife."
When Carrow woke just before dawn, a cocoon of fog had wrapped around her and Malkom. The last time she'd checked on Ruby, it'd been raining. Now all was still and soft.
Malkom remained asleep, which wasn't surprising. He had to have exhausted himself in the previous hours of sweating, frenzied - and, she hoped, cathartic - sex.
Yet never once had he hurt her.
And at the end of the night, he'd turned on his side so he could enfold her in his arms, clasping her tightly to him. His body still shuddering, his voice raw, he'd said, "A witch holds my life in her palm. Ara, I live or die for you."
Now she gazed down at him. His brows were drawn, his eyes moving behind his lids. His lean cheeks were covered in blond stubble.
So beautiful. Her wild, lost male. How could this demon who'd known so much hurt and shame be so proud and good?
She grazed the backs of her fingers over his face, repeating his words, "Carrow is Malkom's."
Wanting to get back to her own bed before Ruby woke, she reluctantly extricated herself from his arms, earning a soft growl, though he slept on.
She dressed in tattered clothes, then made her way to the cabin, reflecting on the secrets he'd confided, the revelations of all that had been done to him.
In the past, she'd wondered if hatred and abuse might be preferable to neglect and abandonment. At least then she might have found out why her parents hadn't loved her.
After hearing Malkom's tale, she knew how fortunate she'd been. She'd been able to find a new family - a mother, sister, daughter.
And now a husband.
Carrow was lost for him. She admired him, respected him, loved him.
She felt as if they'd turned a corner. He'd let out all his frustrations, told her his secrets. It had to have bonded them. She'd become certain that he could get over her betrayal.
But could he get over the rest - the four centuries of expecting and receiving duplicity - without breaking her heart first?
When he woke, she would tell him that things were going to be different. She wouldn't tolerate him saying cruel things to her - or about himself. He was her husband, and she'd be damned if she let anyone call him those things, not even Malkom himself.
Going forward, she would show him that he was more than his past. Did Carrow believe that the love of a good woman would heal all his wounds? Counteract years of abuse?
No. But the love of a good woman and a new daughter, the respect and gratitude of a witch coven, the eventual welcome into a community of immortals - well, these things couldn't hurt.
She intended to fight his doubt, calling on all her available resources to kick its ass to the curb. If he thought his past was stronger than their future, then he'd never seen a witch hell-bent on saving her demonically proclaimed marriage.
Heartened by her decision, she rubbed her thumb over her ring.
Am I not more than my past as well? She was ready to fight his doubt, but not her own?
Though the ring wasn't as loose as it'd been, she realized it no longer fit her. She removed it, clasping it in her palm as she detoured to the beach.
Standing before the roaring surf, she peered down at it.
Carrow was done.
She'd made this resolution before, but invariably, as time went by, she would try to contact her parents. Always she'd held on to this damned ring, held on to unfounded hope.
Done. She threw the ring into the waves.
At once, she gasped, tempted to dash into the water and find it. But she stopped herself. Tears welling, she raised her face to the mist. Good-bye.
Turning on her heel, she headed back to the cabin. With every step she took away from her past, she felt lighter, as if a crushing weight on her chest were dissolving. The longing, the bafflement, the desperation - all ... ebbing.
She sighed, feeling as if she could finally breathe after so long.
In the bedroom, she tugged Ruby's blanket higher, leaning down to brush a kiss over her forehead. I'm going to take care of you, Ruby. I always will.
Satisfaction coursed through Carrow, a flare of power surging within her. Though doused by her tor"ue, it had arisen...
From within me?
With a bewildered laugh, she climbed into the other bed. All her life, she'd been waiting for this answer. Carrow had always known she could feed her powers from anyone's happiness. She'd just never figured it could be her own - because she'd never been truly happy.
Not until she'd let go of her past and welcomed a new future.
She stared at the peeling ceiling, which looked so different from when she'd left it. Because I'm different now.
Then she smiled, was still smiling when she gradually drifted to sleep.
But not long after, she bolted upright in bed, just as Ruby did.
"Did you feel that, Crow?" the girl murmured. "Something bad's coming."