The Dal’s almost empty tonight. There’s a cluster of young Light Fae in the corner by the pool table downing pitcher after pitcher of cheap ale judging by the tall stack of empties. A beautiful woman (who Lauren suspects may be a kelpie) absently runs a finger across the rim of her martini glass. Her eyes, twin pools the colour of the deepest well, flicker red in the chandelier’s soft light. As she passes the stranger on her way to the bar, the kelpie offers a seductive smile and her free hand pats the empty seat beside her in invitation.
The blush creeps up Lauren's neck and all she can do is shake her head in reply. The last thing she needs is another woman in her already complicated love life.
She sits at the bar and places her purse upon it. Trick offers her a warm greeting and pours a glass of her favourite red wine, the one that Bo loves to serve whenever Lauren visits her dilapidated dwelling. “Meeting Bo later?” he asks, drying some whiskey tumblers with a bar towel.
“As a matter of fact I am.” Lauren can feel her face light at the mention of Bo. She’s normally so calm and reserved and god help her, even geeky at moments (did she really have to explain why carbs taste so good?). But thinking of Bo, talking about her... being in her presence makes Lauren feel so warm. Alive. Things she had thought were lost to her when Nadia fell ill.
Lately thinking of Bo always leads to thoughts of Nadia. Her feelings for both women have become so entwined she finds it hard to keep from feeling guilty or wondering if she’s betraying one to love the other. She fights it all back down, unwilling to let her warring emotions ruin the short window of freedom she's been given from the Ash’s compound. She sips the wine instead, enjoying the heat from the drink and the company behind the bar.
Trick excuses himself to deal with the Fae frat boys who are arguing loudly about whether or not someone cheated on the last shot by using their powers. Lauren swivels her head towards the entrance, anxious to see Bo. With their recent kiss in front of Nadia’s comatose form and her awkward confessional of love, Lauren is feeling first date jitters and dinosaur-sized butterflies have taken up residence in her stomach. Which logically makes zero sense since she’s been in Bo’s bed before. Two times now, actually. If, anyone felt like keeping count.
Trick returns to his perch and tops off her glass. “How did you manage to get away from Lachlan?”
“Dyson pulled some strings. Officially, I’m ‘consulting’ on a recent Fae body the police recovered from the river.”
Trick raises an eyebrow. “Officially?”
The corners of her lips tilt up ever so slightly. “They already know what happened to the victim. Dyson is just being kind.” Dyson has no love for the new Ash but fealty and respect are ingrained into his being. It doesn’t mean he won’t bend the rules a little.
Even though the Light Fae have stricter rules regarding the treatment of humans in comparison to the Dark, few really respect or care about the welfare of a lowly source of food or indentured servitude. Dyson and Hale are a welcome relief to that philosophy. Lauren’s arms still sport bruises from the last time she was manhandled by the Ash’s brute squad.
It’s still sort of surprising, though, to have the Wolf in her corner. The Norn may have stolen his love for Bo, but Dyson still wanted to see his ex-succubus happy. And even though it made for an odd change to no longer be in direct competition with him for her on-again/off-again lover’s affections, Lauren knows that sadness lingered in Bo’s heart over their separation. How it hurt her to see Ciara in his arms.
Her cell phone vibrates through her purse and she digs it out. She grins as Bo’s name and number flash on the screen before she answers the call. “Hey, are you running late?” she says excitedly, not caring that any pretense of cool she may have disappears in Bo’s presence.
Her smile fades as she hears the voice on the other end. “Lauren? It’s Kenz.” In the background she can hear faint noises, noises that sound like moaning. “Bo asked me to call. We sorta ran into some uber Troll goon who put the smack down on my girl before she kicked his smelly-living-under-a-bridge butt.”
“Is she alright? Kenzi, tell Bo I can meet her at your place and patch her up.” She rises from her seat and slings her purse awkwardly with one had over her shoulder.
“No need Doc, Bo’s already found her medicine.” The moaning increases in frequency and volume. “Dude, at least wait until I’m OUT OF THE LINE OF SIGHT before getting your Fae freak on.”
“Uh, gotta go Lauren. I so do not need to see any more. Bo will call you later.”
Lauren hangs up the phone and sighs to herself. She knows that Bo’s biological need to feed and heal through sex is what being a succubus is. And if she's been hurt badly enough to require an immediate partner to recover from her injuries, how can she, as a doctor, find fault in that?
She just wishes she didn’t want so much to be the one in Bo’s arms tonight.
Trick notices the change in her demeanor and the concern in his eyes only makes it worse. Before he can ask her anything she speaks up. “Can I have a scotch please? And make it a double.”
He frowns but gets what she asks for, pouring the Glenlivet into a crystal glass and setting it in front of her.
It’s too much for her to deal with tonight; her desperation to save Nadia, the growing intensity of the bond she shares with Bo, the gnawing guilt she feels about loving them both, the humility of being chained like a dog to a cruel master. She's pulled too tight in too many directions at once, and it’s taking a toll on her physically. Food is tasteless and only ingested when she feels dizzy after hours of studying the old tomes that Trick finds for her. She sleeps poorly, in small spurts, and rises exhausted.
It’s been so bad lately that, when she does dream, the visions ping pong back and forth between Nadia's beautiful smile and Bo’s embrace. She wakes tasting Bo on her lips and feeling the ghost of Nadia’s hands on her body.
Lauren settles back onto the bar stool and decides that getting drunk before being locked back in her cage is the best thing she can accomplish right now. Just a little time out is all she needs. Let her breathe again.
And if she manages to piss off that bastard Lachlan in the process, well that’s just an added bonus.
Somewhere between the second and third drink (Trick refuses to pour any more doubles after the first, which made her pout, even though her medically-minded brain knows it’s for the best) she catches the smell of the sea, the feel of the wind across the water on a summer’s day.
Suddenly the kelpie is on the stool beside her, legs crossed in an emerald green skirt that’s just short of being scandalous. Her beautiful eyes linger on Lauren’s mouth and her smile promises sweet oblivion.
“I don’t think she’s going to show.” Her voice is low and husky, and a trace of Celtic lilt lingers in her speech. “Whoever it was you’ve been waiting for.”
When Lauren only stares, she reaches over and lightly strokes the pulse point of her left wrist. “I'm Brigit.”
“Do you carry it with you?” Lauren blurts out. She studies the small black clutch Brigit carries in fascination. “I wouldn’t think it would fit in there.”
Brigit looks confused and withdraws her hand. Lauren attempts to elaborate, but the scotch has jumbled her thoughts and made her tongue heavy
“Your bridle, I mean. You are a kelpie?”
Brigit relaxes again. “Aren’t you a clever girl?”
"I have a degree somewhere that says so." Lauren's fingers find the pendant at her neck and twist the chain without thinking. "What I mean is, I'm a doctor. A human doctor who studies and treats Fae." Lauren has never had contact with this species of Fae before, and she's a little rusty on the lore that surrounds them. Something about shape-shifting into humans and the water horse being a kelpie’s true form. “But I’m sure you knew that. That I’m human.”
Brigit leans in closer and re-crosses her legs. Her nails are lacquered a deep blood red and Lauren watches, intrigued, as she traces an invisible pattern down her smooth skin.
“Do you have a name?” she says. “Or should I just call you 'Beautiful' all night?”
Lauren laughs softly. The attention from the beautiful Fae mixed with the liquor is an intoxicating combination, and her body reacts to both stimuli; heat flushes her neck and chest, her heart races and her breathing is staggered.
She was due back in her cage an hour ago, and she knows the Ash won’t take this small rebellion kindly. But Bo is in someone else’s bed right now, and Nadia is still beyond her reach, trapped by some mystical Fae curse she can’t break.
Brigit is here now. And when Lauren runs her hands lightly down the same path the kelpie had moments before, she discovers that her skin is like silk and impossibly warm, far warmer than the cold depths of ocean where she naturally resides. Brigit tilts her face forward and her glossy midnight hair brushes her cheek. There’s a flash of green mixed with the blackness, and Lauren reaches for it, but Brigit is too quick. She shifts slightly so Lauren’s hand instead cups her face, lets Lauren's thumb find her lower lip.
Lauren shuts out all the distractions in the Dal Riata and leans in, intent on replacing her hand with her mouth. She knows this is, more than likely, only a brief reprieve. Tomorrow she’ll still be trapped and lost and scared and angry and every other mixed up emotion she can’t seem to get a handle on. But for now, she’s craving heat.
A shadow falls over them, and before Lauren can claim her mouth, Brigit’s beautiful features morph into something hideous. She hisses, with gnashing teeth and glaring red eyes. Shocked, Lauren recoils from the kelpie and falls off her bar stool, into the arms of the waiting Dyson.
“This human is protected.” While Lauren struggles to free herself from his mock embrace, he pulls her silver pendant out and dangles it in front for all to see. “She belongs to the Ash.”
Brigit shakes her mane of hair and in an instant her face is lovely again. She gives Lauren a cool once over. “She wouldn't taste good anyway. Not enough meat on her bones and too much broken inside.”
“Go. Now.” Trick doesn’t ask, but commands her to leave. “All are protected under this house. You’ve broken the bonds of Sanctuary. I suggest you find the exit before we find it for you.” The threat is real, and even Lauren can sense the power in his words. This isn’t the first time she’s wondered what exactly Trick is capable of.
Brigit merely sneers and stalks away, but not before blowing a kiss over her shoulder at Lauren. Shaken but embarrassed, she finally shrugs off Dyson’s hold.
“I’m fine.” Her tone is sharper than she intends and immediately she feels guilty. She should never have fallen under Brigit’s spell. “Thank you, both of you, but I’m alright.”
Trick apologizes before she can start her questioning. “I’m sorry Lauren, I called Dyson. Kelpies often seduce humans into more than just their beds. I wasn’t sure what Brigit was up to. She may very well have just wanted you for your, ah company.” Lauren finds it charming that Trick is a little uncomfortable discussing her probable hot as hell sex (and possible demise). “But I couldn’t risk that.”
“When Trick mentioned her name I realized I’d arrested her before. Solicitation.” Dyson waves his hand, declining the beer Trick holds out to him. “She was also a person of interest in a missing persons case last year. Now I’m thinking the missing man may have ended up as her meal.”
She’s suddenly very grateful that someone was thinking with their brains tonight, and not their hormones.
“Also, wolves and horses don’t mix well.” Dyson says. “That’s why she reacted so violently to my presence. Our kinds have never really played nice together.” He watches Lauren thoughtfully. “You were lucky I was nearby.”
Lovely. Lauren wonders if her night can get any worse than this. Having Dyson catch her being so reckless is something she’d like to forget for the rest of her life. This night is quickly ranking high on Lauren’s list of most mortifying moments ever.
“I’m glad you’re fine. But what you are is late.” Dyson frowns and checks his watch. “The Ash expected you back over an hour ago.” She reads his body language as smug indifference to her situation, and it makes her defiant.
She balls her hands at her side in frustration. “And are you my jailer now, Dyson? Do you have to make sure the lowly human is put back in her cell where she belongs?” She stares him in the eye and dares him to respond.
“You know that’s not the case. Getting you these free passes puts me at risk as well.” His tone softens when he sees her face crumble and the strong façade she’s wearing start to crack. “I’m sorry, but we have to get you home.”
The irony of calling her residence at Lachlan’s manor a home isn’t lost on either of them. But she knows he’s right.
Suddenly exhausted, the last dregs of anger fade away. Now she’s just drained and a little sick from all the alcohol. She fumbles around her purse to pay her tab, but Trick refuses to take anything. “You’ve had a rough night. Try to get some rest.”
Lauren smiles but it’s an empty one. She lets Dyson escort her out of the bar leaving Trick polishing glasses and ignoring the worried look he gives her beforehand.
The November air is chilly, and Lauren shivers. She’s thankful for the cold, though, it’s sobering her up and making the nausea tolerable. It might be better to face Lachlan’s wrath with all her wits about her.
The only noise on the car ride back is the crackle of Dyson’s police scanner and the low mumble of the dispatcher and other officers. Every now and then he glances at her, maybe to see if she’s going to bolt from the car at the next red light or just plain jump out while it’s still moving.
As if she could ever really leave. She reaches in to her pocket and fingers the cold iron nail the Morrigan gifted to Bo. Like the chain around her neck, she's never without it. No matter what abuse she has to endure or what new torture Lachlan dreams up, Lauren will stay the course.
Bringing Nadia back to her is what matters.
She rests her head against the cool glass of the passenger window, closes her eyes, and only opens them again when a strong hand rests on her shoulder and squeezes gently.
The streets are dark and empty, and with the quiet of the car and the warmth of his hand, Lauren wants to confess. She wants to tell Dyson how scared she is that she won’t be able to save Nadia. To ask him about Bo’s transformation into a Fae of incomparable power the night she'd saved both their lives. To finally voice the deeply buried suspicions that maybe the Fae have been the cause of Nadia’s suffering all along.
It’s on the tip of her tongue to spill all her secrets in the dark when the car stops, and Dyson withdraws his hand to put the vehicle into park. He waits for her to look at him before speaking.
“Let me go with you.”
She shakes her head and gets out before he can argue, and within seconds the Ash’s guards are at her side, half pulling, half dragging her towards the building. “You’ve made the Ash very displeased, human.” Lauren swallows and holds her head high, refusing to let them cow her into submission.
Dyson’s protests fall on deaf ears as her captors close the entrance to the complex, shutting him out. They walk her down the long hallway to the Ash’s inner sanctum, and she stumbles, would have fallen were it not for their unyielding grip on her arms. She grips the nail tight in her fist when the goons deposit her on the floor in front of the throne and force her down on one knee. She refuses to bow her head, something she knows she’ll pay for later.
The doors swing shut behind her, and Lauren rises unsteadily. She straightens and focuses on the pain in her hand – she’s squeezing the nail so tight that she can smell blood. Lachlan looks like his normal smug self, lording down on her from his seat of power, but she knows underneath there is a carefully concealed rage. He’s already had to drag her back here once before when she tried to hide at Bo’s place.
He hates having to repeat himself.
The silence is itself a punishment. Lauren waits posed like a worm on hook and she knows that Lachlan loves watching her squirm. He delights in keeping her meek and subservient, making sure she’s always in her proper place. Ruling her by fear.
She knows he expects her to plead and beg. Shower him with tears and promise to never, ever be a disobedient little meat sack again. And before tonight she probably would have. But underneath the usual panic there’s a simmering anger at the way she’s been used and how she’s let herself be manipulated.
And a dawning realization.
Lauren’s had a moment of clarity tonight, somewhere in between all the booze and reflection. Through all of the Ash’s cruel taunting and bluster he’s never actually truly harmed her. She’s been chained up, knocked around some and been beyond scared for Nadia’s and her own safety.
But he’d never kill her. Or let Nadia die. He can’t.
Bo would never, ever stand for her suffering – and sure as hell not for her death. Someone is taking care of her for a change. Bo… her own tough but vulnerable, sexy as hell succubus clad in black leather instead of shining armor.
Any last bitter urge to supplicate herself before him is gone. Lauren waits, calm and collected. Ready.
He can’t hurt her anymore.