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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"How is one to find out the answer to that if you keep walking away from them?" he said instead.
"Do not take pity on me just because I wept all over you before. I am not some weakling girl who needs a pat on the head and praises."
"Everyone needs praises. And if you were a weakling, Syreena, you would earn my disgust, not my pity. I have a very low threshold for people who sit around crying, waiting for everyone else to save them."
She didn't have a way to be immediately angry with that, and Damien knew that was because she agreed with him. She floundered, searching for a way to keep her temper up. She was having difficulty because it was not him she was truly angry with and he was not providing the necessary target for her temper.
He was struck by how like her father she was in that respect.
"I am not!" she bit out, newly furious, marching back up to him with as much dignity as she could muster considering her weakness and soreness. "Don't you ever say that again!"
"I did not say it," he responded. "I thought it. If I had wanted to share, I would have given you permission to access my thoughts."
What he was not telling her was that he was shocked that she had even been able to do so. Very few beings could read his well-protected thoughts even when they did have his permission. How had she done so? Lycanthropes were not telepaths. They only divined things through a collection of vibratory data and a fairly acute sixth sense. Syreena had caught on to him fairly word for word, by the potency of her reaction.
She took a moment to be equally confused, her expression telling him she was also trying to figure out how she had done such a thing.
"In any event, I meant your temper, not in the essence of who you are," he explained calmly, his dark, midnight blue eyes never wavering from hers. "It is nothing you do not already know."
"I don't need a total stranger telling me so," she retorted. But her words were losing their punch. She was tired, upset, and trying too hard to blame him for how she was feeling.
"What you need is rest and peace, Syreena. You are too hard on yourself and you are thinking too hard for someone who should just be letting herself heal."
"Will you please stop telling me what to do," she sighed.
She collapsed where she stood, too tired to even hold her own weight anymore. Damien moved like a blink, his speed bringing him to her before she had sunk even two inches below her height. The Vampire Prince swept her up into his arms, high against his chest until her heavy head settled in the nook between his right ear and shoulder.
In spite of himself, he pressed his cheek against hers, letting her feel his warmth and the security of his presence.
"Stop this," he whispered into her tiny ear. "Stop trying to prove to me how full of quills you are."
"I don't…I don't understand you," she cried softly. "I don't understand what you want!"
"I know," he murmured. "And I am not surprised."
He shifted her closer and began to walk back toward the cozy cottage sitting some distance back in the darkness.
"Tell me what you want," she pleaded.
"I want…" He paused long enough to laugh at himself on a soft breath. "I want to know what you want. And since you do not know what that is, I will have to wait to find out."
Syreena lay bundled beneath clean, warm covers an hour later, trying to figure out what he had meant by that.
She heard him speaking with Windsong in the next room. Every time he laughed, she had to fight the urge to be curious as to why he was doing so. It was an infectious thing, in no way as dark and mysterious as he was. It made her want to hurry into the room and ask what the joke was.
She wanted to hate him, but she realized it was impossible. She had even found his confession of degeneracy to be fascinating and character defining, not a scandalous waste like she had been trained to think. In truth, he was nothing like she had tried to make him out to be. He was painfully courteous, even when she railed at him, charming without malicious intent, and terribly wise despite his claims to be less than judicious in his behaviors both past and present.
The Princess realized she had been taking out her foul mood on him, that she was angry with herself for ending up in this entire predicament. He had borne it patiently, even with an ounce of wisdom and a dash of seemingly infinite serenity.
She sat up in her borrowed bed, pushing back the brown side of her hair, which clung wildly to her bandages. She began to unwrap her hands, suddenly tired of their restriction and the way it made her feel like an invalid. She couldn't be as liberal with the coverings on her severely damaged head, so she satisfied herself with the freedom of flexing her fingers and her hands. All that remained of the penetrating wounds was the angry red indications of where they had been. They were also very sore, even a bit painful, but it was nothing she couldn't bear if she put her mind to it. In another few hours it would pass. The more she healed, the stronger she would get.
But it would take a very long time to grow back her hair.
She felt like Samson, shorn to the quick and left betrayed by the resulting weakness. Had love also betrayed her? Like that biblical character had allowed love to become his weakness, had she allowed her love for Siena to weaken her? Or had the Queen's love for her left Siena vulnerable?
Syreena despised the idea that she was considered a weakness to Siena. Worse yet, one that could be exploited in order to attain revenge.
Syreena jolted in surprise as the deep bellow preceded the sudden slam of the bedroom door.
She saw the livid fury in Damien's eyes and looked down at her bare hands and the bandages in her lap. "I don't need them-"
"I am not talking about the bandages, Syreena!"
He strode across to her, his irritation evident in every step as she tried to figure out what he was so mad about. Her heart was beating rapidly as he faced her, paused for a moment, and then kneeled down on a single knee before her.
He reached for her wrist, closing long, strong fingers around it and tugging so she would be sure to meet his eyes.
"Are you so bent on punishing yourself?" he demanded of her, his deep blue eyes radiating with the break in his patience. "Will you take on a definition given to you by a madwoman to satisfy that desire? Just because Ruth's convoluted logic made you her means to get to your sister does not make it the truth!"
"I swear, you are enough to try the patience of a saint. Or is this what you are trying to attain? Sainthood? No wishes of your own, no ambitions of your own, no love and no lovers? Everything for everyone else? What is it you hope to achieve with this thinking, because I know the purpose escapes me!"
"It escapes me, too!" she bit back defensively. "Unlike you, the world has not been my playground, Damien. One day I was a child like any other, with all the freedoms a child should have. The next I was waking from a fever, and from that very instant my entire life has been mapped out for me. I have been shaped to obey everyone else's ideas of who and what I should be. It is all I know!"
"It is all you will allow yourself to know. I have seen you stand up against this conditioning before. You did it the day you defied your teachers for Siena's sake. Why can you not do it for your own sake?"
"Who the hell do you think you are? You are not my keeper! You are not my teacher! I have enough people telling me what to do!"
"I am the one you chose to show that child to just a few hours ago, Syreena. The child inside of this woman who still hopes in spite of herself and in spite of a century of people trying to wash it out of her."
She knew that was what he meant. A part of her even knew there was truth behind his words. She had indeed shown him that part of herself. She had kissed him simply because she had wanted to. No one had told her to, no one had expected it of her. It had been an impulse of her own desires and her own wishes, born of a longing for things she had relegated to a low position on her list of things she might get around to one day, once she was finished doing everything that was expected of her.
"Stop talking to me as if you know who I am," she said, her entire body shaking with emotion as she tried to free her hand from his grasp.
"Only when you admit that even you do not know who you are," he countered sharply.
"Very snappy comeback, sweetling. All that education and that is all you can think of?"
She threw out a word of even less sophistication.
It made him laugh. "You know, I think your temper is the only thing left for you to truly lay claim to," he mused tauntingly.
Syreena smacked him.
A little too hard.
She yelped in pain, nursing her stinging hand to her lips as she groaned and cursed against it. Her only satisfaction was the impression of her fingers just above the line of his beard.
She had also cut his lip against his own teeth, and he touched the bleeding spot with a finger. He looked at it with amusement. "So, I guess Siena is not the only catty one in the family," he observed.
She leapt at him, ignoring all the reasons why she shouldn't, her hands going right for his smug face. It didn't even enter her thoughts that he was far faster than she was and could have stopped her quicker than a wink.
He fell onto his back on the floor, his head striking the wooden floorboards with a satisfying whack. She scrambled over him, straddling his waist as she tried to get her hands around his fool neck.
He had her by both wrists, however, and there was no way she could ever overpower him arm to arm. She realized she was in a bit of trouble only when he suddenly rolled her over onto her back, laying his heavy, powerful body over her and trapping her beneath him.
"Get off me!"
He ignored the furious command. Instead, he pressed her hands gently into the floor and looked down into her livid eyes. He felt her trying to dig her heels into the floor for purchase, her entire body wriggling in resistance and in search of escape.
"Keep it up," he encouraged her with a sly smile. "It is about time you had a little foreplay."
Syreena gasped, outraged, shocked, and flustered all at once. She froze in place, finally aware of the position he had caught her in. He lay flush against her, and she had managed to put him directly between her thighs.
"Oh…" she said, the strangled sound all she could produce in her shock.
"I should think so," he agreed, his infuriating grin widening as he looked down at their meshed bodies with clear speculation. "Let us see, now…"
Syreena shivered as he took a second inventory, except all he used was his sense of smell. He started at her neck, the feel of his breath a curious stimulant as he moved his face down over her shoulder, across her throat, and down the arch of her breastbone right between her breasts.
It was a terribly erotic thing to do. She just could not figure out why he was doing it.
Damien wanted to keep her off balance. She did not think in an orderly fashion when she was working on instinct.
In his opinion, she could use quite a bit of that.
He had, however, forgotten to take his own instincts into account. She still smelled of lavender, but now she carried the scent of the night on her as well. Her time out of doors clung to her like a perfume. The only difference was that she had warmed it, robbing it of its biting chill.
Of all Nightwalkers, Lycanthropes had the highest normal body temperature. He had always seen that in his heat vision.
It had never prepared him for being this close to that heat, however.
"Damien, don't what?" he demanded against the fabric of the dress she wore. He lifted his head so he could see her eyes. "What don't you want? What do you want, for that matter?"
"I…" she stammered, everything so confusing and unexpected. If she could only think! "I don't want this!"
"This? What is this?" he asked, clearly being obtuse on purpose. He drew the tip of his nose up the long plane of her neck, inhaling her fragrance the entire way. "Don't do this?"
"No," she breathed, closing her eyes as she tried not to feel the rush in her pulse that responded to his curious caress.
"So I should do it?" he asked, immediately repeating the action.
Syreena exhaled with a shudder, the tremble vibrating against him everywhere. He closed his eyes for a moment as he absorbed the reaction.
"Damien…" she tried to complain breathlessly.
"Not good enough?" he questioned.
He improved the touch by using his lips instead.
She turned her head in spite of herself, giving him just a little more access, probably not even realizing she was doing so.
Damien was suddenly caught in a web of his own making. The slight gesture exposed the beat of her pulse, the conduit carrying her blood pounding against his mouth in provocative rhythm.
It took a very long series of moments, but he jerked back from the temptation.
Syreena opened her eyes when she felt the abrupt movement. He turned his head aside, cursing under his breath. It was at that moment that she realized she was not the only one reacting to his manipulation. She pieced together the memory of what she had done to disturb him, immediately realizing what she had inadvertently accomplished.
Normally, she might have apologized for her unthinking actions, for baiting him against his own nature, but she realized that she was not at all sorry for it. A tumult of choices opened up to her, and she knew that if she contemplated it too long she would end up doing whichever one she thought she was supposed to do. She would do what was proper; what was expected.