"See you both in the morning," Gideon called back cheerfully.
"Rowan, if you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask," Carly said, turning her head as Gideon dragged her away at increasing speed.
"Hesitate until at least morning," Gideon amended. "Good night, all." And with that, they were gone.
Gabriel and Rowan were alone.
"Well. Shall we?" he asked after an uncomfortable moment's hesitation.
Rowan looked back, her eyes flashing in the dim light. "Nothing good can come of keeping me here," she said in a soft voice that managed to be both lilting and ominous.
Gabriel simply sighed and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. "Don't I just know it," he replied, and started toward the doorway. He heard her pause, then begin to follow. What choice did either of them have, really? But her words, both warning and threatening, echoed in his ears as he started toward the surface, and refused to let him be.
"DO YOU ALWAYS DO THAT?"
Gabriel started, the soft and smoky voice beside him jerking him back to the present. After a silent walk back across the grounds to the Iargail house, with Rowan trudging along beside him with a ferocious look that quite eloquently said, Don't even think about talking to me, he'd been free to let his mind wander in peace. And so it had- up long and shapely legs, under a particular clinging corset to skim a slim waist and bountiful curves, and over one long, ivory neck. He'd thought, since she was paying him no attention anyway, that he was being discreet enough.
He would have been if he'd been able to quit gulping down the Rowan-scented air that surrounded him, he thought darkly, stopping just at the top of the stairs and turning to look into a face that was indisputably irritated. He opened his mouth to fend off what was sure to be a complaint about his ogling, er, admiring of her exalted person. Instead, he got another whiff of his own personal werewolf heaven.
It was so unfair, he thought, dangling somewhere between annoyance and bliss.
It was also utterly glorious. And in the end, bliss won out.
Helpless to resist, he drank in the smoky musk of a blustery autumn afternoon, exhaling on a sigh after he'd filled his nose with the crisp bite of October air and the warm aroma of fallen leaves. As impossible as it seemed, Rowan smelled just like his very favorite sort of day, the kind he dreamed about when he needed to escape for a bit. He'd done it ever since he was a child; one minute there was only stress, and the next, he was racing through trees turned to Highland fire.
There was nothing childish about his reaction to that scent, though. He would have been mortified about the decidedly boyish burst of butterflies in his stomach had he been thinking of anything but having this glorious creature beneath him tonight. All night. Every night.
"Do I always do what?" he finally managed in a voice that sounded like he'd recently taken up gargling with razor blades. If only she'd tell him he was driving her mad with lust, or that she found werewolves completely irresistible ...
"Sigh," she said instead, tilting her chin down to give him a beleaguered look that might have been charming had it not so plainly meant she thought he was an idiot. "Loudly. Heavily. And at least ten times since we got in the house. Is it a medical condition, or are you just naturally annoying?"
When the words sank in, he wasn't sure whether to laugh or be offended. It seemed to be the way with this particular Drakkyn, which meant he was well on his way to a headache of epic proportions if he spent much longer with her. Gabriel jerked his chin up, crossed his arms over his chest, and glowered. It was a look that had intimidated many a would-be brawler at his place of business. Unfortunately, Rowan looked decidedly underwhelmed.
"And are you always such a charming conversationalist, or is it just me?" he shot back, keeping his voice deliberately even. He didn't think it wise, when he knew so little of her, to let Rowan know he felt like throttling her every time she opened her mouth.
"It's you," she replied, not quite suppressing what appeared to be an amused quirk of her lips. "I know when I'm being a bitch."
The honesty, strangely charming, caught him off guard. "Ah," he murmured, "that's ... astute of you."
"About as astute as telling you I don't plan to reform right now," she said, not looking concerned in the least. "So just quit sighing. It's giving me a headache, and all I want to do is sleep."
She might as well have ended with I have spoken, Gabriel thought as he watched her flounce off without him. He found himself in no hurry to catch up, taking the opportunity to enjoy the way her hips swayed when she walked, as though she were moving to music only she could hear. He could imagine her dancing, the sinuous motion of those long limbs and perfect curves to some sensuous, bass-heavy song.
Gabriel shook his head, wishing the motion would clear it, and made himself follow despite every ounce of his better judgment. It was bizarre, his reaction to this acid-tongued creature. He preferred his women on the "doting and delectable" side, of course. But if a man's tastes ran more to the wild and wicked-and thank God his didn't-Rowan would be desire personified. She would also, he had no doubt, be more than happy to abuse the besotted into eternity.
Could be interesting, some traitorous part of his mind piped up
The rest, obviously brighter than his libido, simply retorted, For Christ's sake, you idiot, get some sleep.
"You're doing it again."
Gabriel gritted his teeth and jogged to her side, taking her around the corner and stopping in front of a door in the east wing, the part of the house generally reserved for family. "This'll be your room, for the time being," he informed her as he pushed the door open, flipping the light switch just inside. She stepped in warily, and Gabriel felt a surprising tug of sympathy for her in that moment, left alone in a strange place with nothing but the clothes on her back. Well, what little there was of them. He had a strange urge to follow her, to try to put her at ease. After all, he reminded himself, it sounded like she'd been through a lot. No matter how tough she played, he'd bet she would become vulnerable once the door shut on her.
Then her sarcastic voice reached his ears from within.
"Oh. Pink. My favorite."
Okay, so, maybe not so vulnerable.
Gabriel barely suppressed a chuckle, remembering now that this particular room was a bit frilly. Lots of eyelet lace and rose accents. Guests often came to Iargail for its charm as a Victorian country manor, and much of the decorating had been done with that time period, the time when the original castle ruins had been incorporated into a stately yet charming brick home, in mind. But with her bold looks and fiery temperament, it was one of the last time periods he'd associate with Rowan. She was more warrior queen than retiring lady, more likely to be toting a spear than a doily. And the woman was the absolute antithesis of pastels and pink.
It seemed, he thought as the smirk lingered, that Rowan was inclined to agree.
He knew he should just leave her be to get settled in for the night, but found himself stepping in behind her anyway. She had stopped in the center of the large but modestly appointed room, looking over the heavy, old four-poster bed, nightstand, low mirrored dresser, and armoire like a queen surveying her domain. Apparently she found everything but the wall color adequate enough, as she turned to look at him with an imperious air, hands on hips.
"Thanks. I can take it from here."
Though he was obviously being dismissed, and here was the last place he really ought to be until he formulated some sort of rational plan of action, Gabriel still hesitated. In the soft lamplight, the woman who'd introduced herself as Rowan an Morgaine looked even more tired than she had when she'd so abruptly arrived. Though the dark smudges beneath those jewel-bright eyes and the hollowness of her cheeks did nothing to mar her beauty, it was obvious that she hadn't been getting the care she needed. And her brother's words slithered through his mind with an unpleasant hiss: Just be sure she feeds. She's been starving herself, and her power is all but gone.
Gabriel heaved another exasperated sigh and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, prompting Rowan to glare daggers at him before unceremoniously turning her back on him to turn down the bed. It was, he knew, an invitation to leave. Now. And also to shut the hell up with the sighing, which she was bound to point out if he slipped again.
He started to do just that, but caught himself at the last minute and settled for glaring at the back of Rowan's head instead. Pity her brother hadn't been more specific about just when she'd die of starvation, since then he might have had the luxury of dragging the task out for a while. But then maybe it was better to just get it over with and move on from there. Perhaps she'd thank him, he thought, though there was a better chance of Gideon dancing the can-can in drag at the pub. But in her purportedly weakened state, at least she probably wouldn't be able to kill him. That was something.
Christ, his standards were getting low.
"Right," he said, more to himself than to Rowan. She turned back to him, looking suddenly wary. "Except first I, ah, promised your brother I would do something." His reward for this admission was feeling like a prize idiot when Rowan simply looked at him blandly. Perhaps she hadn't understood him. Then again, perhaps pigs would someday learn to fly.
"For you," he added meaningfully.
Gabriel tried his best not to glare at the woman, who he was sure was being deliberately obtuse. She knew she was a bloodsucker. He knew she was a bloodsucker. It wasn't as though he was skirting the issue. Well, not exactly. He took another step closer, and Rowan narrowed her eyes into slits. All of that outrageous hair seemed to pulse with a life of its own in the glow of the antique wall sconces that framed the bed, and Gabriel had a sudden intense urge to simply twist it around his list and use it to hold her still while he took a long, hard taste of that luscious mouth and sharp tongue.
He'd taken two more steps toward her before he even realized what he was doing, and by then Rowan was beginning to look like she was seriously considering ripping into him with those long, manicured fingernails. Gabriel gave a short, angry growl. Hell with this. He hated vampires as much as the next werewolf. Blood-sucking Drakkyn were close enough. And the best way to cure himself of this ludicrous fixation he seemed to be working on was by doing exactly as he'd been asked.