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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Syreena rolled over restlessly in her bed. The room was pitched in darkness, the silence of inactivity deafening. She knew that dusk was still an hour away. Though daylight did not reach into this depth of the monastery, she refused to get up. She was exhausted from roaming the hallways endlessly, her thoughts and body behaving like an impatient whirligig that refused to wind down. If she left her bed, she would do just that.
But being in bed only stopped the walking, not the pacing of her mind.
It was time for her to return to Siena. At least there, she would have something to do besides self-reflection. Her life at Siena's side had proven to be a busy one. There was catharsis in being distracted from disturbing thoughts and feelings. She was not so ignorant as to think they would go away, but at least she might forget them for short spurts of time as other, more pressing troubles crowded them out. That in itself had to be a relief of some kind.
Besides, she had to face their people at some point. She could not stay away waiting for her hair to grow so they would not look at her in that way she had grown to despise so quickly. She was healed enough now to resume her work; she had been able to access the falcon for short periods of time twice already. The missing feathers were not flight feathers, which meant she could still assume the Lycanthropic form she used most often anyway. The length of time she could become the bird would grow as she recovered from her trauma.
At least, she hoped so.
She would not confess it to anyone, and almost didn't wish to acknowledge it herself, but something was different about the shapechange experience.
Different, to her at least, was rarely a good thing.
It was hard to pinpoint or describe how it was changed. It was the same shape and coloration, the same process of concentration combined with head shaking that brought it on and the body shaking and focus that reversed it. She could fly, glide, and cry out in the voice of that side of herself. In her second form, the one Siena jokingly referred to as "the harpy," she was still a woman, covered in falcon feathers and sprouting large wings. A form which no doubt had started the fanciful notion of angels or, as Siena said, harpies. Perhaps both, only it depended on the temperament and the actions of the individual Lycanthrope that had created human perception of them.
The fact that she could not access the dolphin was highly expected. The same went for the "mermaid" she became in the combined Lycanthropic form of humanoid and dolphin.
So what was so different?
She was almost afraid to return to her sister's household without being sure. It had something to do with Damien's bite, of this she was reasonably certain, but it must not be anything of great note if it was not immediately apparent.
Frustrated by the constant vacillation of her thoughts, Syreena flipped over onto her stomach and buried her head beneath her pillows. She put her hands over her ears and hummed to herself, filling her head with the sound and vibration of it for several minutes before she began to feel comfort. She did not care that she was feeling a little suffocated with her face pressed into her bedding. All she wanted to think about was the tune she was humming, hoping that if she let it overwhelm her enough, she could actually manage to doze until a little past dusk.
Even forty minutes would be a welcome respite.
She hummed louder and more urgently when she realized she was in danger of thinking again. She was softening, forgetting snatches of her melody as it began to work about fifteen minutes later.
Damien smiled as he listened to her sing half in and half out of her sleep.
An impending snowstorm had blocked out the sun early that evening, much to his pleasure, but she would not know that down in the belly of the monastery as she was. He had found her easily enough. After spending the day as Noah's guest at his residence in England, Damien had used the storm to take him to one of the more distant, lesser known entrances to the monastery caverns. Having been a fixture around the Lycanthrope courts on and off for most of his lifetime, he had come to know a few things about how to get around. Truthfully, however, it had been more about following the pulling instinct in his gut that had led him to her so quickly.
The advantage to the raven form he had suddenly become capable of was that Lycanthropes would not question the presence of a black bird fluttering its way through their halls. They were mostly asleep still, but those whom he had passed had not even looked twice at him as he had skimmed his way past.
He liked being a bird, he thought as he unfolded his arms from across his chest and moved closer to Syreena's bed. It was a light body capable of extraordinary speeds. Its aerodynamic form was a marvel, in spite of its apparent defenselessness. He felt as though he suddenly had an insight into what it was like for Syreena.
Freedom and speed at the price of vulnerability.
Always a trade-off. He wondered, for a moment, what the vulnerabilities of her other third were. He was already getting an idea of the ones present in her current form.
The Vampire Prince stopped when he reached the edge of her mattress, taking a moment to allow himself a leisurely look at her slender and athletic figure. She was bottom side up, and it made him smile wider as the quilt she lay under followed the shape of her legs up into the swell of her backside, then flowed abruptly down again to the exaggerated arch of the small of her back. The end seam of the handmade blanket stopped in the middle of her spine, allowing only for the flow of soft, peach-shaded skin.
He could feel her warmth even from the relative distance where he still stood. He had an impulsive thought, comparing the probable chill of his hands pre-hunt, as they were at the moment, in contrast to the superheated warmth of her Lycanthrope body. He imagined that if he touched her on the back that very second, she would jump out of bed high enough to hit the ceiling.
He had to suppress a chuckle along with the urge to do mischief. Play could wait until after she knew him better. At present, such tricks would very likely cost him his head.
Her sleepy song, a Lycanthrope lullaby sung in rounds, faded in and out of strength. It told him the story of her struggle to sleep, and he could easily sympathize. He also took comfort in it. It was the first sign that he was not the only one struggling.
Damien moved his eyes to the twisting combination of colors that made up her long hair. Most of it lay across her shoulder blades, the rest pooling down her ribs on the side nearest him. The fact that there was far more brown than gray settled an ill feeling on him. She had suffered much pain and had seen no justice for it. Hopefully they could somehow rectify that together.
As far as he was concerned, Ruth deserved vengeance from him just as much as she did from Syreena. The idea of the twisted bitch laying harmful hands on her made his blood boil with a possessive outrage. It was a bracing feeling, but he did not shy from it. In fact, he rather liked it. This was what he had been trying to explain to Jasmine.
Passion. There was nothing cool, dull, or blase about it, and he really liked that. Would it fade in time? Was it just another brief delight that time would take the pleasure from?
He was not sure, but in the moment, feeling it as he did, he could not imagine it happening. That was quite a testimonial from the heart of the world's eldest Vampire.
Damien slowly dropped to a single knee beside the bed that cradled her so cozily. He leaned forward, just past her upper arm, and purposely exhaled across her shoulder and the sensitive hair lying over it.
She twitched in her dozing state, lifting her shoulder as if to escape the sensation.
Damien's lips drew up on one side, grinning.
He repeated the airy caress, long and slow, watching as her skin broke out into a chilled wash of goose bumps.
Syreena started suddenly, jerking her head up and out of the cocoon of pillows. A quick hand swiped away the hair hanging lazily across her face.
She turned her head and looked into fathomless eyes of midnight blue.
"Damien," she said, her breath leaving her in a sudden rush as inexplicable delight and excitement rushed her from head to toe. She did not know why, but she did not fight the feelings. They felt too good. It was the best thing she had felt since…well…since she had last touched him.
"Damien," she repeated breathlessly.
Damien was not expecting this reaction. He had somehow thought she would be angry with him. At the very least resistant to even seeing him again. When he had last seen her, she had shouted at him with fear and frustration.
Because she had been afraid for him.
That was when he realized she was happy to see him because it meant he was well. Unused to the regard of someone who wished to see him protected, at least someone besides Jasmine, Damien was a little overwhelmed. He found himself unable to speak even to greet her.
Syreena sat up suddenly, reaching to grasp his shoulders as she dragged him up for a closer inspection. He followed the powerful strength of her guiding hands until he was seated beside her on the bed. She drew herself onto her knees, shoved back her straggling hair once more, and began to inspect him with quick, intense eyes. Her hands flew where her eyes did, touching his shoulders, face, and chest in turn.
"Are you well?" she asked in an extreme whisper.
He responded by dodging past the torturous gentleness of her hands and catching her mouth with his. Syreena made a sound that was nowhere near surprise. He knew it well. It was relief. He was feeling it, too, he thought, as he kissed her taste from her soft lips. He caught her head into one large hand, holding her to him so she would not leave before he was over the initial scream of reprieve rushing his entire being. Despite what his mind struggled with, his chemistry knew what it wanted and what was compatible with it.
Compatible being too mild a term.
Her hands lifted to his face, her fingers flickering soft touches over his cheeks and the corners of his eyes. She invited him further with an exquisite parting of her lips and the hot firefly flick of her tongue against his.
The room around them filled and echoed with the sounds of breath, the rustle of his clothes, and the creaking of bedsprings as she shifted her body into his open embrace. Syreena slid into his hold and his lap as he kissed her with the intensity of a creature seeking sustenance for life. Her heart was pounding in her ears, as well as against his chest.
Damien felt it with ease since he had none of his own to confuse the signal. His head began to buzz with that strange high she gave him when he had fed off her before, but all he was feasting upon this time was her sweet mouth.
And that was when he realized it was not her blood that had done it at all in the first place. Not in the strictest sense. It was her, period. The chemistry, the movement, the passion.
He broke off their kiss suddenly in his shock, capturing her face so he could pull her under the scrutiny of his eyes. Searching her bewildered features, he realized what his mistake had been.
Having never known a true passion, he had been paralyzed by the feelings of it when she had unlocked it within him. Passion or love? Love or just unbelievable desire? He did not know. All he knew was that he had never felt anything like it, and that the pain of leaving it was blinding. That was what his body had been trying to interpret for him in the easiest emotions he could relate to. The change caused by her blood to his systems was unrelated. In the strictest sense, at least.
He laughed suddenly, the laugh of understanding dawning on a mind too long mired in confusion. "I knew it," he whispered to her, sounding momentarily cryptic. "I knew I should always trust my instincts."
Before she could question his meaning, he had her mouth caught to his once more. Her head immediately reeled with dizzy pleasure and the understanding that his words were meant to be complimentary to her. She definitely took them as such.
"What I meant," he said against her seeking lips, "is that you could never have hurt me. I only regret hurting you."
"You did not hurt me. Quite the opposite," she assured him. "I have never felt anything like that in my life."
"You almost bled to death," he scolded in a very gentle argument that lost its punch by being bracketed with the kiss of his mouth.
"It was because you were not prepared for what you were feeling, wasn't it?" she queried.
"How do you know that? Damn it, it has taken me until just now to figure it out." He lifted his head so he could see her sparkling eyes.
"I honestly do not know. I just figured it out, too."
"Oh. Well, I feel better, then." He chuckled.
Syreena laughed at him, wrapping slim arms around his neck and hugging herself to him tightly.
Until he touched her back.
The Princess yelped in shock at the bracing cold of his hands, jolting so hard out of his lap that she fell off the bed and onto the hard cavern floor, with nothing but a thin carpet to cushion the blow to her bottom.
Damien immediately realized what he had done and cursed in unison with her as he reached to help her.
"I am so sorry," he said in earnest regret. "I completely forgot. I am chilled because of the weather and the fact that I have not had the opportunity to hunt yet. Forgive me."
"That," she gasped, "will definitely wake a girl up in the evening." She reached for his offered hands, letting him pull her back onto her feet as he laughed at her remark.
"I should think so. I am sorry, I assure you."
"I know. There is no need to apologize." She exhaled and pressed a hand to her pounding heart. "I only need a moment to catch my breath."
Then she abruptly lifted her head and turned to view herself, him, and the entire room.
"Um, I am not sure if you are aware of this, but you are in the monastery of The Pride."
"I am aware of this," he countered, lifting a brow in obvious curiosity. "I have been welcome before."
"Yes, but…not in the bedroom of the royal heir who is a Monk and is supposed to remain celibate whenever she crosses the threshold."