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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
And, he realized, he could claim the same. Though he was not fond of the water, he could swim well, and his lack of need for air could benefit him with that. He walked the earth as she did, and even traveled the air. But with the change in size his body went through to become the raven, it allowed him a new sort of access he was quickly coming to appreciate.
He saw her streaming up through the clear water, heading toward him and the surface. She broke through with a long intake of air, slicking back her hair with her hands automatically. The Vampire squatted down low, so that he was much closer to her as she held on to the ledge and treaded water.
"Better?" he asked.
The response was enigmatic, but she pushed back and swam away before he could question her about it. He straightened to his full height again and watched as she floated lazily across the surface, her lithe body turning and twisting, diving and surfacing, giving him teasing flashes of flank and skin, and of long, graceful arms and gently arched feet. He walked the edge of the steaming pond slowly and thoughtfully. He barely spared a glance for the carved stone archway leading into the circular chamber and the intricate art etched into the faces of the walls. There was a stone bench, a part of the wall itself, that circled the half-moon alcove from one side of the entrance around to the other. He did not make use of it, instead moving around her as she played in the water.
She turned to look at him after a few minutes and then swam to the edge nearest to him. With capable hands, she hauled herself onto the dry stone and up onto her feet. Water cascaded from her long hair, splashing over the ground, his shoes, and the lower part of his pants. He cocked a brow at her, realizing there was a little bit of malice to the supposedly innocent accident.
"Passive-aggressive behavior does not become you," he informed her mildly.
"Neither does jealousy," she said, her tone tight and strained. "And yet, I am still engaging in it. Perhaps you can tell me why that is?"
"Jealousy?" He mused over the term with blatant curiosity, one that was tinged with a little too much amusement for her liking.
"Don't be so smug," she warned him. "Not until you have seen a jealous Lycanthrope." She growled under her breath impatiently. "Tell me why I feel this way! I hardly know you. I have no claim on you, nor do you have one on me. You seem to have a wisdom about all of this that I do not. I want you to tell me what is going on!"
"Your premise is in error. We do have claims on each other."
"Because you drank my blood? What is that to you but a meal? Just another tasty tidbit before the next comes along."
"Hmm," he murmured.
He let his eyes roam over her slowly for a moment, memorizing her shape where it was sleek and also where it was soft and round. His obvious appreciation made her body shift in spite of what she preferred it to do. How could he turn her inside out so easily, with just a look? She walked the world in the nude without interest or care, yet one glance from him and she felt truly naked before him.
"There are certain foods that can never be topped, Syreena. Did it not occur to you that you are perhaps the tastiest tidbit of them all? That against you, all the others pale dramatically in comparison upon my palate?"
"Is that how you see me?" she asked, her bewilderment terribly obvious to them both. "I admit, I have no idea. Everything we have experienced together so far has come from necessity or impulse. You seem to know so much, where I am lost and baffled."
"Is that your impression?" Damien reached out, brushing droplets of water from her forehead above her left eyebrow. "I can see how it would appear so, but I assure you it is not always the truth. You see, Syreena, I am working with the experience of a long life of living by my instincts. It has always served me well. What you perceive as ease of understanding is merely familiarity of action."
"Perhaps that is exactly what I am afraid of," she noted quietly, turning away from his touch and walking around him.
He was left to follow her the short distance to her chambers. "Would you mind clarifying that remark?"
She ignored him for a minute, reaching into her wardrobe for a short sheath dress made of olive green silk. It shimmered over her head and down her body, with only a slight twitch of her hips to settle the loose fabric in place.
Damien took the opportunity to look around the room, taking careful note of the Spartan setting that resembled the conditions at the monastery. She had no waiting room or parlor, and no ladies catering to her needs as her sister did. Siena enjoyed her privileges and her luxuries, and though little things like the fabrics Syreena wore and the silky sheen of her bedding attested to the fact that Syreena enjoyed a certain level of luxury herself, it was clear to him that it did not extend too far beyond her person.
She was a private person, as he had become over the years. He expected her cloistered upbringing was behind her penchant for solitude. She was definitely a thinker, someone who meditated on her approaches, thoughts, and actions, keeping her settings as simple as possible in order to avoid disturbance or distraction.
If she had not been the type to deeply consider her actions, she might have come at him with the full force of this jealousy she was laying quiet claim to, instead of walking carefully around its edges, just as he had walked the edge of the hot spring.
"Am I merely your latest instinct, Damien?" she asked abruptly, the brush of her hands over the hips of her dress broadcasting an uncharacteristic nervousness that the Prince picked up on instantly.
"The latest? Yes. Merely? No, Syreena. By the nature of who you are, it could never be a mere thing."
She sighed, but not with relief. It was more a sign of growing agitation. "You have such a way with words. I never know if it is just because of years of practice, or because you have feeling behind it. What I do know is that Vampires are hard to impress and not known to show their emotions. Yet you do not hesitate here?"
"No. I do not."
"I need you to explain why," she insisted, stepping closer to him. She was warmer than usual, her body superheated from her swim. He could feel it even though she stood a good yard away yet. He suspected her rise in emotion had something to do with it as well.
"I already told you, I am not certain why. It just is."
"And what will 'just' be tomorrow? Will you take the blood of another and find yourself acting on instinct as well?"
Ah. The point, Damien thought with an inner smile. "Let us say that I did. It would not change how you feel, will it?"
"That depends on how far I let this go. I will not play the odds like my sister did. She gambled that making love with a man not of our species would suspend the mating rules. She lost her bet, although in actuality she won, because Elijah is her perfect complement. Only a male such as he is could temper my sister."
"And what kind of man would temper you, Princess?" he asked silkily, moving a step closer, the single advance closing the distance between them to mere inches.
Syreena looked up to meet his eyes and was aware that he was finding some sort of amusement in their conversation. For once, however, she sensed that it was not at her expense. She understood that it was just who she was that he took so much delight in.
"If you mean for it to be you, Damien, you have to know that, for me, there would be no going back. There would be no other choices. For the rest of my life, I would want only you, and never anyone else. It is written in genetic code on every cell in my body. No member of the royal household has ever been successful at defying it. They never even wanted to."
"And as I understand it, that applies to your mate as well."
"Usually. But this is uncharted territory. You are not Lycanthrope."
"It worked with Elijah," he pointed out.
"An extraordinary chance of luck. Demons have the Imprinting. We have it, too, only we call it something else. I have never heard of such a bond between Vampires."
"Vampires also never shapechanged before," he reminded her softly. Again, he reached to touch her, as he seemed always compelled to do when close to her. "Syreena, I cannot guarantee what I do not understand myself. I understand the risk involved on your behalf, and that you do not see it as being as much of a sacrifice on my part, but," he said, his fingertips brushing that spot on her hairline that was already sprouting downy-soft growth, "if it will make you feel better, I will tell you that I have thought of nothing but you since we parted. I cannot sleep; I take no joy in feeding. Jasmine says I am moping and melancholy."
The terms used against someone like him were comical, and she laughed in spite of the anxiety twisting beneath her breastbone.
"I have not experienced this state of disenchantment for nearly eight hundred years. I cannot afford the luxury of such things because I have a species to care for. And yet, I indulge in it in spite of myself. No one, no female of any species in all the years of my life, has affected me the way you have. I have had obsessions and infatuations, but none were like this. Is that what you want to know, sweetling? Or do you want to know that I will not one day actively seek a way out of your arms when I grow tired of you? Perhaps you wish for a promise that I am not thinking of taking you to bed simply for the experience of intimately knowing a one-of-a-kind creature, who has no genetic equal?
"I think that no matter what I swear to or promise to, you will find another reason to worry. Your insecurity shows, Syreena. Your need to believe in yourself and to have others believe in you is sharp, and it must be so very painful when we do not live up to your hopes." Damien ran those gently searching fingers back along her hairline until they were circling the back of her ear. It was a sensitive spot, and she shivered under the caress.
"All I can tell you," he continued quietly, "is that from the moment when first I saw you, I saw beauty. I saw strength and determination. I saw the sweetness of your love for your sister. All of this I saw while we were in the dark. Remember? I saw nothing of your eyes or your hair. I saw nothing of your crown. I took nothing from your bloodstream. Even then I felt myself intrigued by you. I felt desire for you. Perhaps it was because you were threatening my life. I do find that particularly sexy."
"Damien!" She laughed in shock, reaching to touch his chest because she couldn't bear not to any longer.
"Your heart is as harlequin as the rest of you, Syreena. Gray in some areas, natural in others. I would learn them all, if given a chance. And while I do not deny that I want very badly to take long amounts of time exploring everything about you…" He paused long enough to run his eyes down her body, his inference as clear as the increasing beat of her heart. She felt heat slipping through her everywhere at once, until she was light in her head over it. "In this instance, however, I see that I must leave you to decide when you wish to come to me and soothe my desires."
Damien's fingers slid from behind her ear to the back of her neck, his thumb stroking over her cheek as he pulled her closer. He touched his lips to the corner of her mouth. She closed her eyes, her slight body shivering in excited anticipation. She understood what he was saying. She realized that he would walk away and give her time to think, if he had to. It relaxed her, opening her closed and suspicious thoughts to possibilities just out of her reach.
"I suspect such a thing is not possible," he murmured against the skin of her cheek after a moment.
"What is not possible?" she asked on a whisper of breath.
"Soothing my desire for you," he said, the sudden rush of longing very apparent in his heated voice and the unrestrained fingers sliding around the curve of her ribs, gripping her side as if she were a prized possession he wanted to keep very close, lest another covet her. "I cannot imagine a hunger like this being satisfied with a small taste."
Syreena closed her eyes, inhaling deeply, letting the obvious changes in his scent wash over her as he let a few of his restraints slip away. It allowed her a startling insight into how she could arouse him even when he was simply holding her close to himself. She marked all the attractive, delicious changes in his chemistry, and how they seemed to cycle through her blood, awakening the response within her own systems.
He was breathing against her, telling her that he had switched into that place where he began to lose his control over how his body functioned. The reflex was a compelling clue, one that gave her a strangely prevailing sense of satisfaction.
"You enjoy your effect on me," he noted on a low, aggressive pitch. "I know because it radiates from you like a sun, searing through me." He turned his mouth an inch so he could kiss her in a short, forceful style, making quick work of relearning her textures, her warmth, and her incredible sweetness. "Be careful, Princess," he warned on a hot and rapid breath, "or you will start a fire that I will not be able to control."
It always amazed her how, when he began to touch her and kiss her in such ways, it never took long before she couldn't care less about consequences. His warning had little impact when pitted against the flavor of his mouth and the feel of his domineering hands.
"I don't know what to do with you anymore," she said with wired emotion, her hands gripping at the fabric of his shirt along his sides. "You say all the right things, you do all the right things. Even things I deem mistakes, you manage to explain away as if they had all the logic in the world behind them. Where do you get your unshakable surety, Damien?"
"For me, it is a survival instinct, Syreena. Without it, my throne would fall into someone else's hands…along with my head to the ground. I cannot afford the luxury of second-guessing myself."
"You cannot possibly know how much I wish I could say the same," she said longingly.