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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"I won't be afraid of her…not after I rip the little bitch's heart out."
Elijah laughed at that, the rich timbre of it echoing down several cavern corridors. "That's my girl," he said, just before capturing her mouth and starting her on a path full of completely different topics.
Syreena got up from kneeling in front of the prayer altar she had been meditating in front of for the better part of the past twenty-four hours. She was not allowed to fast as she continued to recover from her ordeal of a week ago, and she wished the Monks would relent on that issue. She was fine, really, her blood supply quite back to normal. Perhaps if she fasted, her attempts to meditate would prove more useful. It had always worked in the past.
There was no use speculating about it, Syreena thought with a defeated pout. Besides, the food that was or was not in her belly had nothing to do with why she was having such a hard time focusing.
She was wondering how Damien had fared after all he had gone through. Because she had not been forthcoming with her sister, Siena had seen no need for more than the usual inquiry about his well-being in the aftermath.
But Syreena knew better.
She also knew that she had shown him damn little appreciation both for what he had done for her, and for her part in the second incident. Why she was so testy and volatile around him, she could not say. There was simply something about him that put her on edge or stirred her up. One or the other.
That thought brought back far too many highly sensitized memories for Syreena's comfort, and she restlessly began to pace the halls of the monastery of The Pride.
Having grown up in the enormous underground monastery, she knew it better than she knew the royal castle. In a sense, these caverns and rooms carved through the massive Russian mountain The Pride was located in were more of a home to her than her birthplace. At the same time, there was no fond love and affection to be found in these halls. Lectures, professors, and discipline, yes, but nothing quite resembling kindliness.
Not that she had been abused or truly deprived. She had thrived in every other way imaginable. She had benefited from an education beyond measure, and the knowledge of how to settle her soul when it was most disturbed.
Syreena had come to lick her wounds in this place because at least here she could be assured of no one taking overmuch interest in her emotional well-being. The Monks would think her quite capable of managing herself. Siena would not be so easy about it. Though the Queen would mean well, wanting to be a sister, Syreena did not think she could bear up under too much scrutiny at the moment.
Again her thoughts turned immediately to the Vampire Prince.
She felt herself flushing and absently raised a hand to cover the telltale blush of her cheeks.
She had never felt anything like the wildly precarious things he had managed to create within her. Perhaps it was because he was so terribly dangerous, both to her and to himself, that made it so. She had never been a thrill seeker before, however. Outside of her position in the court, she led a rather mundane lifestyle. While living in the monastery she had been required to be celibate; as a Princess she was required to remain so until she found her mate for life. Between the two, she had long ago become used to it not being a factor of interest.
Damien was the first to ever shake that particular tree within her.
Although it had been more of an earthquake than a shaking. Everything that had happened in the wake of it had been a testament to why breeding across Nightwalker species was so strictly frowned upon. Siena and Elijah were the exception, and it had not been an easy adjustment for everyone to make. In fact, the court and Siena's people were still adjusting to it. Some far better than others.
But at least they did not cause harm to one another. They were both clearly thriving and robustly happy. Such a thing was clearly not possible between Damien and Syreena. It had been foolish of her to even attempt to think otherwise. More foolish of him, considering he had already been aware of the painful ramifications of playing with that fire.
Syreena made a frustrated sound and stopped to lean back against a cool wall for support as she rubbed at the ache in her temples. No matter what she did, she could not stop herself from thinking circles around this issue. Why could she not convince herself that this was simply the end of a string of bad choices? Why, in spite of everything, did she still have this overwhelming craving to seek him out?
Footsteps approached her and she quickly resumed her walk. She passed a pair of Monks and they nodded to her in polite acknowledgment. She nodded back, using great mental effort to not cover the bare patches along her ragged hairline when their eyes fell onto it. She wished she could tolerate wearing a shawl or scarf over it to guard herself from such observation. But where all Lycanthropes balked at confining their hair in any manner, she found she was even more repelled by it than before.
It would take years before it became unnoticeable again. And it would never all match in length again. There was an ironic humor involved in it as well. Until her hair reached a certain length again, the dolphin would be forced to lie dormant within her. It was almost as if she were being cosmically punished for her resentment of her two halves. Now that it was out of reach, she suddenly wanted it back with all of her heart.
The Princess self-consciously reached to comb fingers through her soft brown hair, arranging it to cover the bare places. The effort was obvious, considering the even part that was normally there, but it was better to look like a zebra than a victim. At least there were those who naturally had striped hair color in their society. Those who did not know her would not look twice at it.
Unfortunately for the Princess, there were few people who did not know her.
Still, it was better than nothing.
The Vampire Prince was brooding again.
Jasmine sighed softly as she spied on him from the balcony of the mansion. The turn of the tables was unnerving. She was supposed to be the moody one. However, she did not have that luxury any longer. She was too overcome with concern for Damien.
He was walking the darkened gardens sprawled out just below her, heading toward the cliffside where he would no doubt spend another collection of endless hours staring out at the Pacific Ocean.
Jasmine assumed it was toward Russia which he looked.
She did not assume this because he had confided in her about anything that had occurred. She had been left to her own devices of deductive reasoning on that matter.
The Princess could possibly manage to hide the truth of things from her sister and their people with tricks of hair and jewelry, but a Vampire could not be fooled in such ways. The bite of a Vampire was something like an animal rubbing up against a tree, a marking that outlined territory and pronounced the power of the beast within its borders.
A Vampire could always sense when another had been before it. Since they were so territorial by nature, that was how they managed to keep from treading upon each other's toes.
So anyone who crossed close enough to the Lycanthrope Princess would know that Damien had been there before them.
Besides that divination, Jasmine had been quite shaken by the simple sight of them sleeping together in the Mistrals' home. Damien went to bed with his women, but he did not sleep with them. She imagined it was because he did not trust any of them as far as he could throw them. Or perhaps it was because the intimacy of it was too potentially misleading. Damien did not like for his enjoyments to form attachments to him. He preferred to keep that in accord with his own wishes. Infatuated females were too much work and headache if he did not want them to be infatuated with him.
It had taken four years for him to show any affection for Jasmine, though she had been aware of it long before the expression of it. Even now, it was a part of how they functioned that she would always protest any need of him. Neediness was unattractive to Damien. In truth, while they were deeply friendly and caring of each other, she did not need him in any overtaxing way. She certainly did not claim a dependency on him. They had never been lovers, though she had contemplated it once. She had decided long ago that she would rather have his unending interest in friendship rather than his passing fancy in bed. Jasmine believed this was what had kept them side by side through the centuries.
Damien was also not forthcoming about what effect his little marking of the Princess had had upon himself. Jasmine knew, however, that there had very much been an effect. This knowledge was what had prompted her to send all the others who shared their home, friends and servants alike, away to another of Damien's households for the time being. She had conjured up an excuse about diplomatic obligations and traveling, something they were used to. Whatever happened, the others must never be made aware of any changes in Damien. Change was often viewed as a sign of weakness in their society. Weakness, even among friends, had a way of causing huge amounts of trouble and danger.
They would quickly be able to sense what she had sensed about Damien, that there was indeed a difference. The Prince could not have been ignorant of it, either. It was impossible. If she could sense the differences in him, then he could feel them in himself. However, there was no way she could get a true sense of the nature of the change so long as Damien was actively blocking her. Only his invitation would allow her evaluation of what alterations there had been.
It was all too disturbing. Which was why, she supposed, the Prince kept sitting at the edge of a cliff looking toward impossible things night after night.
Jasmine was as silent as the grave she purportedly slept in. If a single whisper of these events got out, it would be like blood in the water. Ambitious Vampires would be sniffing at Damien's heels in search of his crown, seeing all of this as a weakness to be exploited.
Part of Jasmine wanted to go out and see to it that all who knew of it remained just as silent. Permanently. Anything to protect him, as he had always protected her. But considering who the parties were, she would end up setting everyone involved at war, more or less.
Besides, Damien would probably frown on the indiscriminate assassination of heads of various Nightwalker provinces.
Jasmine was not a very patient creature. It was probably why she so easily grew weary of the world around her. She stretched out her arms and rose up into the air, the breeze fluttering through her long, loose hair. She could smell the salt of the ocean on the wind, even though they were set back a distance from the water. She skimmed the treetops in a position perpendicular to the ground, following in Damien's wake, the tips of her booted feet smacking an errant leaf here and there as she went. Her ankles were crossed, a preferred position when she flew that made for less wind resistance and effort against her legs.
She set down on the gravel path with a gliding walk that made an obvious crunch. Damien had already taken his seat on the stone bench just steps from the edge of the cliff.
He turned at the sound of her feet.
Damien had been expecting the confrontation eventually. He knew Jasmine was not the sort to beat about the bush when she had issues to discuss. "Jasmine, why can you not just let it be?"
"Very well. If you will stop mooning about the manse, I will not ask a single question."
"I do not moon about," he said shortly, turning back to the dark sounds of the ocean tides.
"Moon, mope, melancholy, pout…call it what you will, but you are most certainly doing so. Do not think you will pull the wool about me, Damien. I know you too well."
"And not at all," he said sharply.
"Yes. Even after five centuries. Although I do know enough to know that this behavior of yours could lead you to risk everything important to you."
"Perhaps what I viewed as important before is not now."
Jasmine was certain that had she a heartbeat, it would have skipped in tempo just then. This was beyond mere moodiness, she realized. It was not like Damien to question his goals and his rather steady ideas of what he wanted from the world.
She moved to his side, sitting on the cold bench and leaning into the warmth of his body as she often did when they spoke of serious matters.
"Damien, I am your best friend. Why will you not tell me what is hurting you so?"
Damien turned his head to look at her as she rested her chin on his shoulder. Jasmine rarely pulled this particular ace on him. Professing her understanding that she meant so much to him was something spared for cataclysmic events. For the first time, he saw himself as she must be seeing him. Altered. Forever changed. A stranger she did not know and was afraid of meaning nothing to. This was how she expressed her love for him, and he immediately regretted pushing her to it.
He reached around her shoulders to hug her close to himself. "Do you remember 1562?" he asked her, whispering his words softly into her hair.
"The French uprising?"
"Ah. The freckled queen of England."
"Yes," he agreed. "It was just before I found out she had contracted smallpox." He smiled against the silky strands of midnight pressed to his lips. "It was the last time we were all together."
"Simone, Racine, Lind, Jessica…"
"Dawn," he added.
"Silly chit. Getting herself killed on a French battlefield, of all things. Turning a feast into a funeral."
"It was a mistake. We all make them. Unfortunately for Dawn, hers was a fatal one. If you recall, we had a rash of mortal mistakes within that group over the next century." He released a melancholy sigh, reaching to rub at the spot between his brows, as if he had a headache. "Anyway, I had turned her away that night in England. I always thought there would be time."
"Damien, she warmed your bed, not your heart."
"No. I know. But she is the example of all those I always thought I would get back to later, yet never again had an opportunity to."
"Why are you talking of this now?"