Tuesday, July 12th
This is the house that Jack built.
This is the cat
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
The silver bullet felt unnaturally warm in her hand, as if the small, shiny object could be capable of burning her simply from folding it inside her fingers, pressed against her palm. But then of course she knew it was no ordinary bullet. It was magical, created out of the same fairytale evil that ruled Woodcutter's Grim--and therefore capable of destroying anything of the same magic.
With the bullet held tightly in her fist, Marnie Shaussegeny got out of her car, slammed the door and walked up to the house without seeing her surroundings. Once upon a time, this place had been her home, life, happiness--everything she'd ever wanted. Now each time she returned, she knew all had changed. Happiness was at an end. An end she herself had planned.
She strode through the house, undeterred by the voices that called a welcome to her, into her father-in-law Jack's library. When she sat heavily at the desk, she closed her eyes and two faces filled her vision, fueling her fury. She'd gone there...
Dear God, what had she been thinking? After her shift at the hospital, she'd gone to her husband's law office in town. She'd seen him playing up to his nubile, young secretary. I saw the way he looked at her, held her so tenderly. I saw the satisfaction in her eyes. She wants him. And she'll have him. She has the kind of confidence I've never had--certainly not with Gav. Other men, yes. But never with Gavin Shaussegeny.
Marnie would never forget that she'd once been the other woman in Gav's life, forget how easy it'd been to steal him away from his fiancée. She should have realized then that he was the type of man easily distracted by beauty, newness, even naiveté. God, yes, I was all that. He was older, more experienced, so damn handsome, with the kind of self-assurance and strength that appealed to me instantly. Obsessed me was more like it. He had all the power back then. I would have done anything to be with him, to have him, to please him. I was a kid just out of high school, working part-time while I attended college, planning to become a doctor. Working at the Shaussegeny Law Offices paid the bills... and may have destroyed any chance I had of being independent. Wise. I lost everything. All because I fell in love with a man who can never be faithful, can never love me the way I need. And I can't forgive. I can't forget how he betrayed me. Not anymore. That's all I can see now between us, except under the full moon. It has to end.
She lifted the bullet in her fingers, studying it. Oh, she understood that this time of the month--between the last full moon and the next--she always experienced an agonizing negativity. Became restless. Insatiable. Unhappy and distrusting, as if she wanted to break out of her own skin to escape the pain--literally, as if this human skin was foreign and undesirable, something she craved to be free of for all time. Only when she transformed into the werewolf all Shaussegenys and their mates were cursed to become each month did she feel sure of herself, sure of the man she no longer wanted to love. Because love and hate have morphed into the same thing for me.
From the beginning, from the very first shared glance, Gavin had seduced her and captured her heart in his ruthlessly cruel fist. Only under the full moon could she truly believe he was hers the way she'd been his from the instant they met. Their relationship had been so intense back then. But, even after Gav broke his engagement to another girl and married her instead, Marnie had realized he didn't belong to her wholly and never would. He enjoyed other women too much to hold himself to one for all time. Oh, she well understood the way of the Shaussegeny men--the way it'd been for generations. You couldn't live in Woodcutter's Grim without hearing about their notorious affairs--and the blind forgiveness of the woman they loved. Gavin, his father, his grandfather, as far back as anyone could remember, Shaussegeny men were expected and encouraged to spread their prowess far and wide. After all, the wives would forgive and take them back. They always had. I should have been the one to break the cycle. But I couldn't. I was too weak to leave the man I loved more than life itself.
Within months of their wedding, Gavin had refused to see sex and love as mutually exclusive. Sex was simply sport to a Shaussegeny man. If he desired a woman, he had her. Love... Maybe they actually believed they loved their wives because in their hearts no other woman existed for them. But not one of them would ever feel the horror she had--that all the Shaussegeny wives before her had.
She'd belonged to Gavin. There'd never been any other man for her. Dear God, I wish there could have been...so he could feel a tenth of the pain I've suffered since I foolishly lost my heart to someone so undeserving. After a lifetime of being driven by her parents to be strong, to succeed, to get out of this evil town, Marnie had ended up falling under the spell of the son of another treacherous man who'd selfishly brought the moon curse down on his whole family.
The light caught the bullet in her fingers and also caught the gold gleam of her engagement and wedding rings. The engagement ring had belonged to another woman. Gavin's former fiancée had given it back and he'd passed it on to Marnie. She couldn't believe now that she'd worn it all this time without insisting that he give her something else, something new, something just for her. But, in retrospect, she realized she'd never given that other woman another thought. She hadn't cared that she'd probably loved Gav just as passionately as she herself did. She'd only cared about being with Gav... Would I have given myself to him even if he did marry that other woman?
Revulsion swept over Marnie when she acknowledged without a doubt that she would have. She would have sacrificed anything, any principle, to be with him. I couldn't have refused him anything. I wanted to believe he broke his engagement to that other woman because he loved me. Because I was the only one he could ever love and be with from that moment on. But I've never been that to Gavin. Never. Even after the curse was pronounced on all generations of the Shaussegeny family and their mates by Woodcutter's Grim's evil, I won't believe I'm the only woman he wants.
The curse... Marnie knew Gav's father Jack hadn't fully realized the scope of what he was doing when he made an alliance with the evil in the woods. He'd done it in exchange for strength and life. Thirty years ago, all Shaussegeny males fell under a genetic defect that resulted in a weakened state of bone and muscle and led to an overall decline in vitality during middle age. No modern miracle could be found to save them from the condition's ravaging effects. Marnie had often wondered whether the wives accepted the endless betrayals of their men because of the genetic defect. But what did it matter? She herself had fallen in line with the weak, forgiving women for so long--until her father-in-law had decided that the only escape would be to summon and command the magic living in Woodcutter's Grim and make an alliance with it so the defect would no longer plague him, his son and his son's sons for countless generations.
Did I sense that the curse would be my salvation? Perhaps in some way, she had. But she doubted Jack or Gavin had anticipated the full scope of the curse. Though they were no longer plagued by the deadly, debilitating disease, the curse also denied all family mates sexual sport outside of marriage vows. No, the pronouncement of their transformation to powerful creatures subject to the moon had come with another condition:
"Because the Shaussegeny name has long been synonymous with faithlessness, even unto your own chosen mates, only one chosen mate will be allotted to each of your kin henceforth. These chosen mates must also fall under the family curse, but these pairs will know true peace when they become one. Herein lays your salvation--and your damnation. Only if each of your clan remains faithful to their chosen mates in word and deed for all of their days will they have blissful contentment. Apart, mates shall be restless and forever unsettled, gripped by a sadness and despair unlike any other. Additionally, a terrible fate will come upon the one who breaks the mate covenant..."
The curse had given Gav and his father a boundary they couldn't cross without facing dire consequences. The curse had saved her... but not from her own uncertainties and the ghosts of his many betrayals. Maybe the curse had forced Gavin to be faithful since it had come upon them thirty years ago, but she knew he'd betrayed her now, or he was thinking about it, just the way he had those years after they were first married. I can no longer forgive. I can't forget his previous transgression; so many of them. Perhaps most of all because I can't forgive and forget my own weakness that allowed him to come back to me each time, unpunished, still gaining full access to my body, heart and soul. I've given him everything. I have nothing more to offer. Now I take and never give. Now I have the power over him and he has none over me. I deserve that much. The only time I can't control myself with him is under the full moon. But only there does he get any part of me. Even that... I want it to end.
Marnie had no confidence in her chosen mate's love for her. Instead, the curse had turned her justifiable jealousy into something both crazy and unbearable. The time between full moons, when the darkness came into her being, she couldn't rein in her need for revenge. And Gavin's growing displeasure with her hadn't been dimmed by his futile efforts to prove himself to her. Last night, she'd seen lipstick on his shirt in a shade she wouldn't be caught dead wearing. She'd smelled another woman's flowery perfume on him. Ivy's lipstick. Ivy's scent. His betrayal. Soon it will all end, and I'll have my revenge.
Marnie caressed the bullet she'd stolen tonight after seeing her husband with his arms around his secretary. Knowing she wouldn't be able to break into the sanctuary of Woodcutter's Grim's guardians against the evil--the Protectorate--she'd waited until Sheriff and head guardian, Gabriel Reece, had gone into the police station. She'd broken into his truck and taken a silver bullet from his glove compartment.
But can I go through with this? Can I destroy everything? Destroy myself, my marriage, my children? Marnie had fought her own feelings for so long. Now she no longer saw a choice. She couldn't walk away from her marriage, couldn't let her treacherous mate have another easy out. Her teeth clenched. I want him to feel the punishment I've suffered since I gave myself to him. I want blood. I want to see him punished eternally. I deserve it.
More than once, she'd considered getting her revenge by cheating on him. What a satisfying twist. But she knew she couldn't do that--and not simply because the curse would restrain her. She couldn't give herself to any man but Gav. Besides, would it even torture him to know I've betrayed him?Finding outhe doesn't care... Dear God, that would kill me. I accept that there is only one way to end this hell.
She stared at the bullet, then brought it to her lips. The warmth of the magic spread through her, promising peace the way nothing else had, nothing else could.
The full moon was nine days away. She would take the serum her younger son Ransom had created to prevent transformation under the moon. After her in-laws and her daughter Glynnis left the house to hunt under the moon, Gavin would transform... and she would use the silver bullet.
The plan made her tremble. In shock, she gasped for breath. Everything was wrong, and not simply between her and Gav. Their oldest son Lance had gone to New York long ago, possibly in search of his chosen mate, and Marnie knew he suffered from staying away from the only place he could survive indefinitely and be whole. Their middle child, Glynnis, was stubborn and reckless. She'd grown up to be a woman without patience, without the ability to bend and compromise and see anything but her own desires. Ransom had resisted the curse even as a boy and his health had been compromised to the point where he'd never been off the family estate because he was ill all the time.
All wrong. In our life. Our family. Our marriage. Gav feels it, too. I know he doesn't love me. Maybe he never has, and all those full moons we gave ourselves to each other fully... Long forgotten. Because he's sniffing around another female. His new secretary, one just as young and stupid and easily seduced as I was by such a potent, irresistible man. But Ivy has something I never had. Ambition and cold-blooded calculation. She knows exactly what she's doing. There's nothing naïve about her. Killing them both is the only way I can gain the peace I'm entitled to.
Killing the girl would be easy, of course. One twist of her frail neck, and it would be over. But, since the transformation, she and Gav were evenly matched. She couldn't kill him with her bare hands--any wound inflicted on them healed quickly now, instantaneously under the full moon and magically fast even when they hadn't transformed. Killing him would require something supernatural--the kind of firepower the Guardians alone possessed. The silver bullet would end Gav's existence the way nothing else in the human world could. Out of the magic he'd sprung as a werewolf, the magic bullet would extinguish his life just the same way.
Permanent. Death. She would live out the rest of her life without him. Free of his transgressions. The memories. Her children, Gav's parents, wouldn't deny her the revenge she deserved. They were under the same curse--they would understand exactly why she needed to do this. Noneof them will ever recover from the loss though. Still, I can't consider that. I won't think of my own grief when it's done. I gave him everything and it was never enough for him. Long enough, I've paid the price for my desperate love. Now it's his turn to pay, his turn to feel pain that will never, ever heal.
In nine days, more than thirty years of hell would be over...
* * * *
This night or any other, Gavin Shaussegeny didn't dare go home empty-handed. After work, he stopped by the flower shop in the grocery store and picked up a dozen of the blood-red roses Marnie had always loved. They would mean nothing to her, and he was no longer sure why he bothered trying to please her anymore. Nothing he did lately alleviated her restless insanity between full moons. While he could sympathize since he, too, always felt the last full moon was a lifetime away and the new one would never arrive soon enough, he could no longer bear her crushing lack of forgiveness. Nothing he said, nothing he did could reassure her or convince her that she was the only one for him in every sense of the world. Even the weight of the curse that brooked no betrayal between life mates didn't give her what she needed to feel secure.
Sliding into the driver's seat of his sports car, he carelessly tossed the cellophane-wrapped flowers on the passenger's seat. Once upon a time, all he'd looked forward to from one day to the next was going home to a woman who obsessed him completely. Now the mere idea made him want to run and never look back. One full moon a month couldn't make up for what she put him through. Marnie had become cold to him. She refused to admit he meant anything to her. Maybe he didn't. Only under the full moon did he glimpse the happiness they'd shared those few years after the pronouncement of the curse. Then and only then did she give him a part of herself. Because she never gave in, he wouldn't. If not for the curse, she would have left him long ago. He knew she would have done it without blinking an eye and never would have looked back. And I can't live without her. But, hell and damnation, I want to. I want that more than anything lately.
The confession made him grimace as he tightened his hands on the steering wheel, avoiding having to start the vehicle and head out of town to his family home. All his life, he's been like his father, his grandfather and his father before him. Sex had been an affirmation of his male prowess--that above all held deep meaning for the men in his family because of the genetic disorder they'd all shared. How could a woman understand what it was like to lose strength and pride...ultimately, self-respect? Somehow, sexual conquests had taken away that stigma. Gav had seen no reason to give up that craving for marriage and love. Binding himself to Marnie had been life-altering for him but otherwise unconnected with his sexual conquests he tried to keep a secret from her so she wouldn't be hurt or upset by them. Other women meant so little to him yet their value in helping him retain his masculinity had been undeniable.
After his initial transformation, Gav had understood his wife's pain for the first time. He'd realized why Marnie distrusted and wanted to hate him. He'd finally comprehended the depth of betrayal his conquests meant to her. After the transformation, he'd found it hard to believe that, despite her agony, she'd taken him back time and time again, loved him so completely even while she was bleeding from the wounds he'd inflicted on her. She could so easily have taken her base needs and desire for revenge to another man, as I took mine to the women who gave me such pleasure and power over them.
Gav's hands strangled the steering wheel. He would kill any man who touched his wife--then and now...especially because Marnie had been a virgin the first time he took her. She'd belonged to him body, heart, and soul from their first kiss. He couldn't allow treachery from his wife, and somehow he'd had to live with the recriminations of his own. I deserve hergrowing hatred.I just can't take it anymore. God, how she hates the thought of me having any hold on her at all now. Just as much as I detest the fact that I mean nothing to her. She wants to feel nothing for me. Maybe she truly feels nothing.
He sighed, forcing himself to turn the key and start the car. He gunned it and roared out of the lot, taking the road out of town. If he didn't get home soon, she would worry. She would assume...
Thirty years. I've spent thirty years trying to make it up to her and convince her to forget how abominably I treated her. I don't deserve forgiveness, but I can't take much more of her punishment. If only the full moons still convinced him they belonged to each other completely and their love was perfect. But the effects never lasted beyond that time anymore.
His foot like lead, he pressed harder on the gas. The dirt road kicked up dirt and a cloud of dust behind him, forming a barrier to seeing anything behind. So much like my life now. The past has destroyed the present and the future. I haven't cheated on Marnie since the pronouncement of the curse--thirty years ago!--but she'll never trust me. She'll never believe I belong to her the way I should have from the first.
Even as the fragrance of summer pervaded, he could scent his life mate and his own need for her was almost painful. He wanted only her. Why couldn't she accept that? It should please her that the opportunities for "new sport" have been more than plentiful all these years, despite how our family is the terror of this town. No one can equal Marnie in my heart and soul. No one can tempt me the way she has from the start. Even her body is the only one I desire anymore, with constant hunger.
His arousal was painful, and he clenched his teeth against it. Even this wouldn't please her, especially after his stupidity last night. His secretary had come on stronger than usual, told him some sob story about her boyfriend dumping her for another woman. Ivy had worked her way into his arms--he wasn't even sure how--but he'd ended up with her petal-pink lipstick on his shirt and her perfume saturating his clothing. Marnie had scented another woman long before he'd walked in the door. Her scorn had been unbearable.
Gavin let out a frustrated growl. So easy to retaliate against my wife's unending castigation with such a willing young woman. If I'm going to be accused of cheating, I might as well get some satisfaction. Right?
"A terrible fate will come upon the one who breaks the mate covenant..."
Not for the first time, Gav considered divorce since infidelity wasn't an option he wanted to attempt for more than one reason. Could he divorce Marnie? Could he divorce his eyes? His lungs? His heart? Separating himself from his life mate would amount to the same thing. Marnie consumed him, whether there was a full moon or not. But the full moon made his craving for her insatiable, torture even. How can I keep myself away from her during a full moon if we're divorced, if I even manage it at any other time?
It wasn't possible. As he drove through the gate of the Shaussegeny family estate, the impossibility of his situation made him feel like he was suffocating. The gate closed behind him, and, surprised, he saw in the descending darkness that Marnie's car was already parked near the massive garage. Lately, she'd been getting home later than he did. For years, she'd stopped working the endless hours necessary before she became a full-fledged doctor. She'd gone back to long days, and he knew best why.
He grasped the flowers once he parked beside his wife's vehicle, got out and made his way toward the stone porch leading to the front double doors. He'd lived with his parents, wife and children--and even his grandparents before they'd died--all this life. Tonight, the property and house felt empty when he went inside and closed the door behind him. Lance had been gone for so many years, Gav had stopped expecting to hear his oldest son's voice calling to him when he got home each evening. Until someone summoned him for dinner, Ransom would remain in his laboratory in his wing of the massive fortress that was more of a modern-day castle than a house with the four circular wings and a grand tower. His youngest son denied the nature of his beast--had most of his life and now worked day and night, sick and pale, to find a cure for their curse. Gavin understood his two sons wanted more than all else to deny the curse. He'd been furious with his selfish, reckless father for making this alliance with the evil in Woodcutter's Grim. He'd been furious that Marnie had seemed thrilled about it--she'd given herself to it so fully right from the beginning. Though Gav had wanted to resist the way his sons eventually had, he'd never been able to. It's the only time I get my wife back. But I won't tell her that anymore. I won't give her power by telling her how I feel about her, that I can't imagine living without her. She is my life.
He moved from the foyer into the dining hall. There were four wings in the house, one at each corner, all with full apartments. Ransom was in the north wing, Glynnis in the east. Lance had occupied the west when he'd been home. Gav's parents were in the south, and he and Marnie were in the tower suite. The dining and living room hall were the centerpoints of the house.
His parents and Glynnis were there, sipping before-dinner drinks in front of the towering living room fireplace that was used even in the summer since the two-foot-thick stone made the house seem chilly despite waterproof insulation and hydroponic floor heat. His grown daughter came to hug him, smiling even as she said, "You're late, Daddy. A lot of cases?"
He couldn't get over how much she looked like Marnie had when she'd first come to work for Shaussegeny Law. So young and breathtakingly beautiful with her mother's waist-length, flaming red hair.
Gavin didn't smile the way he normally would have. The entire town believed they were part of the evil in Woodcutter's Grim. Maybe they were, but they weren't evil themselves. In any case, their two family businesses--the law firm and the restaurant Glynnis and Gav's mother ran--were shunned to a certain degree by townsfolk who refused to align themselves with "the dark side". The only work that had occupied Gav's time for the past few weeks were the cabins he'd been getting ready for rental. The idea had been his father's--a way to supplement their income in case the whole town rose up against them and forced them to stay inside their enclosed fortress. They'd bought several cabin properties around Woodcutter's Grim, and Gavin had been renovating the first of them. Bringing in outsiders with the cabins scattered beside miles of lake on the opposite side of the Shaussegeny property would secure the family future.
Catherina came to him. "I asked Sukey to hold dinner for you," she said after kissing him hello.
Sukey was their housekeeper and a jack of all trades since the rest of their help had abandoned them long years before. She lived with them, occupying a room on the main floor--the part of the castle that they'd built to be the safest in the last thirty years. They couldn't do without Sukey.
"Where's Marnie, Mother?" Gav asked with indifference that he doubted fooled his mother.
"She's been home for hours," Glynnis added. "I don't know what she's doing in there."
Gav pressed a kiss to the top of his daughter's head. "Don't wait for us. Go ahead and start dinner. Your mother and I will be in later."
"Are you sure?" his mother asked in surprise because it was already later than they usually had dinner.
He nodded, gathering his courage as he left the room with the roses still in hand. Behind him, Glynnis said she'd go get her younger brother for dinner. Gav entered the circular library filled to the cavernous heights with endless bookshelves holding volumes on every conceivable subject. A hand-crafted mahogany book stand was the focal point of the library and generally held the book his family members had long ago memorized: His father's journal containing the pronouncement of the curse.
Woodcutter's Grim citizens didn't talk about it, but all the natives knew that this town was unlike any other. Here, evil ruled and citizens best beware. The people who lived in this town had also come to accept that evil delighted in coming to them in fairytale forms to catch them off-guard. Inexplicably, citizens remained in this place they called home and accepted the evil in their midst like a dark secret.
It was this same evil that Gavin's father had summoned from the deepest, most sacred part of the forest: The portal dolmen, a swirling mass of blackness that lived and breathed and was believed to be the point of origin where evil and reality met and merged. Jack had bargained with the shape-shifter borne of a fairytale nightmare that had stepped out of the Portal. The alliance made that day had led to their curse.
Not for the first time, Gav wondered how his parents could be so unaffected by the misery each family member lived in on a daily basis. Sadness permeated this house. Yet he knew his mother and father had given themselves over to the curse and to each other fully. Beyond that, they seemed to believe everything would eventually work out the way it was meant to. He no longer shared that faith. This is the beginning of the end. One way or another, this enmity between me and my wife has to end.
He wasn't surprised to see Marnie still in her teal green scrubs, his father's journal open before her on the desk. In profile, she still made him draw his breath at her beauty. Her face was smooth and unlined, as classically perfect in its features as it'd been when she was nineteen. And her body... God, she hadn't changed a whit after thirty years and three children. She remained all supple curves, full, bountiful breasts and mile-long legs. Though he'd just indulged in his fill of her gorgeous body that morning, he became aroused just looking at her now. Until she turned her midnight blue velvet eyes on him, that was. The hatred gleaming there was almost as intense as her own instant, obvious sexual need.
"Have a late surgery?" he asked softly, not daring to move any closer.
She barely gave him a dismissive nod before looking away. Once she saw the time on the desk clock, she shook her head. "I wasn't aware I'd been in here so long."
He stepped forward, offering the roses. When she didn't take them, he set them on the desk and bent to kiss her. Predictably, she turned her face before he could make contact with her lips or cheek.
"You're late. Your mother no doubt asked Sukey to hold dinner for you."
"I told them to go ahead. I've almost finished the first cabin for renting..."
Marnie hadn't tried to understand the good he was doing with the rental cabins. She no longer made the slightest attempt to see the good in him. He didn't doubt for a second she assumed the cabins were places he planned to use for his illicit liaisons.
Before he'd even finished his sentence, she got up and walked out of the room. Gav's teeth clenched. Obviously she believed herself to be dismissing his excuses, more cover-ups, by walking out on him. More lies? Why does she seem to want to believe I've lied to her even once these thirty years?
His hands closing into fists, he followed her up to their private tower suite through the winding staircase. He only just caught their bedroom door before it slammed in his face. When he moved inside and closed the door behind him, she confronted him. He could see her teeth were gritted against the words, "Do you need to change in order to hide the lipstick on your shirt again tonight? Shower because you somehow believe for one second that I didn't smell her sickeningly sweet perfume long before you drove through the gates?"
Last night, he'd attempted to do precisely what she said now, even knowing she'd assume the worst with his actions. She would never believe the truth. Why bother defending himself?
She moved to the heavy curtains and thrust them open to let in the pale sliver of moon waxing and waning in the darkened sky above. He felt his body shifting into the werewolf transformation in response to the caress of the subtle moonbeam, but he knew wouldn't be able to hold the form longer than a few minutes--as long as a hint of the light was there. As soon as clouds covered the moon's face, he would revert back into human form.
"You don't honestly think I'd cheat on you, darling? With death... or worse...hanging over my head if I tried?" Marnie turned her back on him, not speaking, but he glimpsed the amber glare in her eyes becoming preternatural.
He stepped in front of her. "Look, nothing happened, all right? Ivy's broken up about something--"
"And you, Mr. Innocent Concern, decided to comfort her? Charitable bastard. Always thinking of everyone else before yourself."
When she tried to walk past him with her acidic words all but burning a hole in the atmosphere around them, Gav instinctively stepped into her path to block her clear intention to flee. Her fury erupted instantly. Massive, sharp teeth bared, she was half-transformed--all the sliver of moon would allow--when she flew at him, shoving him back. But he was in the middle of his own transformation and was able to recover from her blow and stand firm with her struggling against him. "Nothing happened with her. Nothing will ever happen. With any woman but you," he growled.
"Fire her," she said with her face inches from his. She was already turning back into a human. "Or I'll do more than that."
The scent of her heavy musk drove him half insane with lust. All he could see were her heaving breasts, so perfectly formed, beneath thin cotton. Her flesh was always so responsive to the slightest touch of his fingers, his mouth. Her moans would drive him into frenzy. He could so easily imagine mounting her, taking her, satisfying them both...
"You think your poor, dear secretary was broke up about something, lover? Well, that can be a permanent state for her."
"You took an oath to do no harm."
She snorted at him. "As a doctor, not as a wife. This wouldn't count. I'm entitled to my revenge."
"Don't even think about it, darling." The need to touch her was tearing him in two. But he couldn't. Not now. She wouldn't accept him.
"Protecting your true love? Or just your next rutting? Cheating son of a bitch. Do you expect me to stand here and take it like I used to? I was so weak. Such a fool. Well, I won't be that woman again. I'll never give you everything I am, all I have, the way I did back then."
"You'll never forgive the past. That's the bottom line, isn't it? No matter that I haven't strayed even once in thirty years."
Her lips curled back. "You're not worth forgiving." Thrusting her jaw out toward him, she snapped her teeth at him. "Count on me never forgiving, lover. And I won't forget what you did to me either. Never."
"Ivy is nothing." He wasn't sure why he spoke words she wouldn't believe.
"And that's why you're protecting her? For nothing?"
"She's innocent. She's not part of this, Marnie."
"Like hell. I've seen the bitch. She's as stupid as I was over you--before I found out who and what you really are. I've seen how she looks at you. She's calculating how to get you because she wants you. There's nothing she won't give you, do for you, if you ask her. And, for a little extracurricular sport, as you used to call it so affectionately, you'll do anything, too, won't you?"
The moon peeked into the room again, falling over them and changing them. He roared to shut her up, and she leaped on him. The sliver of moon grew brighter, more tangible, and they both transformed fully. In seconds, they were slashing, tearing and ripping at each other. Their clothes were shredded and scattered in the violent tussle that followed.
Wounded, furious and unbearably aroused, they collapsed but not in weakness. She was fully ready for him when he mounted her. But a cloud must have slipped before the moon. Their wolf states faded and they took on their human forms with a combined groan of disappointment.
Gav lay on top of her on the thick carpet, panting hard, naked and nowhere near satisfied. He could see she was bleeding and he could feel his own wounds the way he wouldn't have had to under a full moon. Then they would both heal instantly.
His hands grasped her wrists. One of them had the black, thorny ring around it. Glynnis had given both of them the matching tattoos years ago, when their daughter had been playing with the idea of opening a shop in Woodcutter's Grim. Glynnis had joked that the two of them were chained together for life with the tattoos. Why hasn't Marnie gotten rid of hers? Even symbolically, she must hate being chained to me.
Releasing her wrists, he shifted off her onto his side and Marnie turned on hers. Immediately, he reached for her breasts and she moaned softly at his tender attention. "I don't want her, you jealous bitch. She means nothing to me. Only you. You..."
She gyrated her hips against him, and he growled at the heightened state of painful arousal he was in. "Where's her lipstick tonight?" she demanded cruelly. "Shall we see, Gav? Is it here... or here..." Ruthlessly, she shoved him onto his back.
For a resplendent moment, his vision filled with her beauty. My glorious Alpha female, without equal, her flowing waterfall of red hair spilling over us, her breasts, swollen with desire... More than anything, he wanted to pin her beneath him, sink his teeth into her neck, the way they both loved so much under the full moon. But she pushed herself away from him, struggling painfully to her feet. She was limping, and he grimaced, watching her stalk away. He'd hurt her as badly as she'd hurt him. Just like Marnie to give as good as she gets.
He forced himself up as well once she walked into the tower bathroom. Huddled into herself, she slammed on the water in the locker style shower. Never taking her wary gaze from him, she licked at the gaping wound on her arm.
"You're hurt, babe," he murmured, reaching for her.
"Don't pretend to start caring now."
He sighed. "Damn you, Marnie. You're impossible. Why can't you give in? If you'd give just a little, I'd give you everything."
"Not a second before, right? Maybe you should have thought of that when I was still the simpering, lovesick fool you married."
Ruthlessly, he yanked her body against his. "I love you. Only you. If you can't accept that even now, after thirty years of willing, groveling fidelity, then what the hell are you still doing with me?"
Ceasing her struggle, she viewed him with open confusion and uncertainty. Gav saw his opening. This was the only chance he'd have to get past the guards she so rarely lowered these days. Pressing her back against the tile beneath the hot shower, he kissed her, gentling his own violent needs. He tasted tears on her sweet lips and worried she was in pain from the wounds he'd inflicted on her. Yet, when he eased back a fraction, tenderness for her on the tip of his tongue, she refused to accept anything but their growing hatred for each other. She twisted their bodies, smashing him angrily back against the same tile she'd been up against.
Their lovemaking was wild, cruel, and they were both so spent afterward, they couldn't stand. He managed to turn the shower off and then they crawled out of the bathroom to collapse on the carpet.
For a delirious moment, Gav wondered how she could think he'd have the energy for an affair. Each and every time they fought--and lately, they fought morning, noon and night, whenever they were together--this was how it ended. She drained him utterly dry. Yet he couldn't get enough of her. His hunger for her, for the taste of her, the essence of her, the heart of her was insatiable. At the same time, all I want is run from her never-ending distrust and scorn. I never want to look back. Because I can't live with this woman for another second. And I can't be without her. I'll die without her. Somehow, I have to end this no matter how I feel. I can't tell her I'm ending it either because, whenever she's close, all I want is to pull her to me and never let her out of my reach.
Whatever happened now, whatever dire consequence the curse had in store for him, he knew the only way to separate himself from the most vital part of himself was to let Marnie believe he was cheating on her... or to actually cheat.