|Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Nightwalkers > Damien (Page 1)|
|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
England: The Year 1562
Elizabeth laughed aloud, the sound carrying well into the enormously vaulted ceilings of the ballroom in spite of her obvious breathless state. She was pressing a hand into the curve of her waist, at just the point where her corset always tended to bite at her lung capacity. However, only those in her strictest confidence would be aware of that amusing bit of trivia. To anyone else in the court, young Queen Bess was simply striking an elegant figure as she danced.
Her partner was merciless, grasping her fingers firmly and leading her into turn after turn of the intricate dance. There were few people in Queen Elizabeth's court who could keep up with the monarch's passion and stamina for the dance. Apparently, the Romanian Prince who had Bess by the hand was well able to keep up with her, and even push her past her extraordinary limits.
Robert Dudley watched the debacle with dark, avaricious eyes and a tic that jumped tellingly in his jaw. Cecil, Lord Burghley, could not resist the opportunity to taunt the Queen's neglected favorite. "It would seem, Dudley, that our Good Bess is quite taken with Prince Damien. I do not believe I have ever seen her make such fast friends with a visiting dignitary before."
Dudley did not respond immediately. He had been forced to watch suitors from a variety of countries come and court his Bess, but this Romanian prince would have just as little success as they'd had if he thought to propose to the notoriously capricious Queen of England.
Her heart is mine, he thought fiercely.
No matter how many handsome dignitaries Cecil thought to parade before her as potential fodder for matrimony, Bess would never betray her heart…or his.
Damien finally pulled Elizabeth into the final turn of the dance, smiling at her with gleaming mischief in his stunning midnight blue eyes.
"You best me tonight!" the English Queen declared breathlessly, taking his offered arm and letting her guest escort her back to her throne. She sat down with little regard for ladylike grace, kicking out her voluminous skirts as she swept a cup of wine out of the hands offering it up to her. "My lord, you will tell me how you ever learned to dance our latest dances with such skill and stamina!"
The Prince gave her a wickedly charming grin, reaching to stroke his closely barbered beard as if giving the matter considerable thought.
"I suspect it was because I heard that the one true way of gaining the attention of the English sovereign is to dance circles all about her." He exhaled a dramatic sigh. "And now my machinations are discovered and I think you will send me away, never to set foot on the soil of your beautiful homeland again."
"That all depends," she countered slyly, "on why one wishes to gain Our attention."
"I shall concoct a devious ulterior motive if you wish. Otherwise I must confess it was nothing but sheer curiosity that compelled me."
Elizabeth threw back her head and laughed. His charm and forthright humor were scandalous to the suspicious eyes of England's native court, but it was clear Prince Damien could not care less. Elizabeth liked that. She had been delighted by Damien from the moment he had greeted her four days ago. He had done so with the irreverent observation that he was not there to court or woo her, that she could expect no offer of marriage from him whatsoever, because he knew without a doubt that she was too good for him and would be far better off without him underfoot.
It had been an outrageous way of breaking the ice, quickly reassuring the tickled monarch that her guest was merely there to enjoy himself, not to play a matrimonial chess match with her as so many visitors from foreign principalities seemed to be doing. They had been thick as thieves ever since. Elizabeth saw in Damien an equal, perhaps a potential confidant who could understand her unique position in the workings of the world.
"Come, walk with Us, Damien," she said, standing up now that she had caught her breath and taking his ready arm once more.
Elizabeth led Damien into the recesses of the grand London palace. They were being followed, of course, by the small clutch of women who served as Elizabeth's ladies-in-wait, but both sovereigns easily disregarded their presence.
"Witticisms and charm aside, Damien," she said casually, "what is your purpose here, really?"
"I have no purpose. I am simply traveling and seeing the world at present."
"And what of your people? Your homeland? Do they not need their prince?"
"Of course they do," he responded easily. "But my principality is not like yours. My culture…well, it is very different from yours. It can bear my absence now and then."
"You are very lucky, then," she remarked, trying not to sound as envious as he knew she was.
Damien looked down at the Queen from his considerable height, a small smile curling at one corner of his mouth. He did not often mingle with this culture, but sometimes he heard interesting bits of information about the doings of the world and felt compelled to investigate for himself.
The young English Queen was one of a kind. Her future held a promise and potential that could very well outshine even her own expectations. It would be a shame to let her existence pass him by without getting a close-up perspective of the woman. Also, he had not been lying when he had claimed the need for amusement. Boredom could sometimes be far too easy to come by. This little niche of the world had its intriguing delights. The shadowy machinations of English court politics alone was enough to keep one on one's toes. There were so many sublayers of scheming and plotting that it was a mental exercise just to keep track of it all.
Damien had always enjoyed a good intrigue, and it was always a good joke to try and determine what the outcome of it all would be. Sometimes it was an even better joke to alter the outcome himself if he could.
"Well, my lady, I fear I must beg you to excuse me," he said, his dark eyes and lips both smiling with clever magnetism.
Elizabeth had to admit the man was nothing short of beautiful. In the way a woman could be called handsome, he was definitely beautiful. He was tall, certainly over six feet if he was an inch, black haired, and an even, pale-skin tone that needed no help of make-up or powders to achieve the near translucence that was so trendily desirable. He wore no grease in his beard or his mustache; neither did he grow them long and twist them into the points that were the fashion. Instead, they were as excessively clean as his hair, which was caught back at the nape of his neck in a simple queue, tied with a soft blue ribbon that matched the blue-black sheen of the captured strands.
Whatever his position in his world, he apparently was not a monarch who lazed about on his throne. His body was honed like that of a fighter quite experienced with a heavy sword. His upper-body strength was not one anyone could come by naturally, and his wide shoulders could potentially hold the balance of the world. This all narrowed into a tight and trim waistline, no languorous fat anywhere in sight, and long, graceful ropes of muscles clearly evident beneath the fit of the rich material of his breeches. It was enough to make even a queen lick her lips in thoughtful appreciation and contemplation. Elizabeth laughed at herself, very grateful that the man beside her could not read her mind.
"I forbid you to leave," she heard herself insisting, loath to be deprived of the company of the one man in all of England who expected nothing from her but the enjoyment of her company. It was a spoiling luxury, she had to confess, but she was Queen, and she could have any luxury she desired.
Unfortunately, she was not his queen.
"Normally, sweet lady, I would forbid myself to leave. However, I must deprive myself of Her Majesty's company this evening in order to, as luck would have it, attend to matters of state. My humblest apologies."
"No, Damien, there is no need for that. We princes are often more slaves to our people than we are leaders. Go. But I will secure your promise to return tomorrow evening. We have a performance scheduled for Our amusement that We think will delight you."
"No doubt. Your taste in these matters has proven to be flawless."
Damien swept her beringed hand up to his lips and kissed the pale skin over the rapid little pulse beating against the inside of her wrist, while giving her a shockingly naughty wink. He then turned on his heel, walking away from her with a grin on his lips, bowing slightly as he passed the appreciative eyes and whispers of the Queen's ladies.
"Damien," Dawn greeted him the moment he entered the castle they were using as a den well outside of London.
Acute as their senses were, Vampires despised living in the city proper. Humans had appalling hygiene and refuse disposal habits. The streets smelled like sewers, the odor of the Thames an unbearable putrefaction, and no amount of French perfume could cover the fact that the practice of bathing had failed to escape human superstitions. They believed it would make them ill, when of course the opposite was true.
"Sweet," Damien greeted in return, a soft growl of appreciation escaping him as the young female Vampire, whose auburn hair was as fiery as the colors of her namesake, leaned into him with a sinuous little wriggle. She feinted for his neck and he laughed as her tongue flicked against his artery with a single-minded and slow lick.
"Mmm," she purred naughtily beneath his ear.
"Fresh little bit," he accused her as he dodged the playful prick of her needle-sharp fangs. He turned her around by her shoulders, sending her away with a slap on her bottom. "I have things to do before dealing with your appetites."
The insolent redhead glanced at him over her shoulder as she was propelled into a forward motion by his spank. It was clear by the hunger in her eyes that she would not be placated for very long. Still, if she needed tending that badly, Dawn would not hesitate to find another ready volunteer. He had no hold on her, and she none on him, save their mutual appetites.
Damien pulled off his gloves and disarmed himself of the sword about his waist and the dagger hidden in his boot. He handed these to Racine, who was at the ready, as usual. He tweaked one of the long curls of her dust-colored hair in affection before leaving her to the task of clearing away his things.
He walked through the foyer, across the foremost common room, and into the main salon. There, sprawled across the furniture in a cozy circle that ran the entire circumference of the room, were the members of his court who had followed him to England. Simone had lit a fire, completely addicted to that particular creature comfort and making it easy for him to divine that it had been her doing. That and the fact that she was lounging in a chaise just across from the blaze.
"Damien," she said, her voice petulant enough to warn him of a coming complaint. "It is ever so dull here. When will we move on?"
"We only just got here, pet," he reminded her.
"Well, it's boring," she argued, sitting up. "These people are so…smelly. And dreadfully dull. Can we not go back to Byzantium?"
"You always want to go back to Byzantium," Lind remarked dryly, lifting his fair head from the ample charms of Jessica's breasts, which he had been dozing lightly upon.
Damien tuned out the bantering arguments and complaints for a moment, looking around at the ten adults who considered themselves his closest friends. Walking out of Elizabeth Tudor's court and into this den of women and men who dressed themselves only as an afterthought always took a moment of adjustment.
Unlike the humans of this decade who layered themselves in corsets and petticoats and layer upon layer of needless clothing, the Vampires of his immediate circle wore as little as possible. Some of the women wore breeches, some of the men kilts. It was all a matter of anachronistic taste. Though his kind normally originated in their Romanian homeland, each had been born in a different century and location, Damien accumulating their friendship like another might collect a variety of vintage wines. Their mode of dress tended to reflect the time and culture they had been born to, or a simplistic combination of whatever made them most comfortable.
It was not that Damien cared what his followers looked like. He hardly even cared what they did, so long as it was not against their laws and did not get any of them killed. Still, it was a little dose of culture shock to move between the human realm and the Vampire world.
He glanced over to the one person who was not lying about as if she were bored out of her mind. Instead, Jasmine was standing in an attentive position, looking out of the window, her legs braced apart so that the muscles were flexed, accented by the tight fit of her breeches and boots. He approached her, stepping over a couple of pairs of legs in his journey to reach her.
"Jas," he greeted her, coming up close to her back so he could push past the tangled cloud of her black hair and follow her gaze to see what she was looking at. He inhaled the aloe and persimmon scent of her shampoo as an additive to his greeting.
"My lord," she greeted him back, her nose twitching as she took in his scent as well. "You need a bath," she remarked.
"Why bother until after tonight's hunt?" he pointed out.
"A fair point," she said absently.
"What are we staring at tonight, Jasmine?"
"Besides sloth, lust, and a variety of other deadly sins?" she asked, cocking both her head and an amused brow back toward the other occupants of the room.
"You are facing in the wrong direction for that, in any event," he taunted her, knowing very well that Jasmine did not express her boredom in the usual ways of their people. She was a thinker. She was always contemplating far deeper issues than immediate gratification. Just like her brother Horatio, by whom she had been raised. He had declined the invitation to accompany them to England. In fact, it had surprised Damien when Jasmine had accepted in his stead.
"I am looking into the future, Damien," she said softly, her tone giving him a chill as it joined her distant gaze out of the window. "And it occurs to me that I know why some of us go to sleep for decades at a time."