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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"You can, you know. You have no one you need answer to. Not unless you wish to answer to them. But first," he said, taking her by the arms and easing her away from his overeager body, "first you need to figure out what question you need to ask yourself. I know I could easily sit here and influence you," he said, stroking stimulating fingers down her throat to prove his point, watching the effect it had on her already erratic pulse. "Syreena, you have let the world manipulate your life enough. I will not tell you what to do. I will only tell you your options."
"Tell me my options, Damien. Make it clear. Do not couch it in pretty words and elusive observations. Be straight with me. Tell me what you want from me-from us, if there is to be an us."
Damien looked down into her serious bicolored eyes, knowing exactly what she wanted to hear. He was surprised to realize how much he wanted to say it.
"I want to learn how to love you, Syreena. And no, I do not mean make love to you. I believe I can figure that out well enough." The sparkle in his eyes and the pointed twitch to his brow made her laugh. "I want to learn why it is and how it is you have effected these changes inside me, both physically and spiritually. I wish to know how one such as myself, so nonchalant in emotion all of his life, can be so moved by a single little creature like you.
"This is not a phase for me, Syreena. This is not a fancy that will flit out of my system. I have lived long enough to know what is and is not unique to my make-up. If you want promises, I will find ways to make them and keep them. If you want forever, sweetling, then I will gladly live another long lifetime." He let go of her, his reluctance obvious. "Now it is up to you to decide if these things will make you happy, if they are something you will want with equal measure. Be warned," he said, holding up a hand to stay her interruption, "because there is another side to this. We both have responsibility besides to ourselves. If we cannot reconcile these things, then the choice becomes one of what we are willing to give up for the sake of ourselves. Even I have not had time to consider that. I have only had time to realize that it is not so important to me as it once was, and that, perhaps, is the first step. Do you understand my meaning, Syreena?"
"You speak of our thrones, Damien. So, there is something we must answer to after all."
"Again, only if we wish to."
"Wishes cannot come into it, Damien. I am Siena's heir. There is no changing that."
"Only if you do not wish it to change. But that is not the immediate question. It is merely an affected consequence of the answer. Discover one, before worrying about the other."
"Find out what my heart wants, without considering my responsibilities?"
"To you, that sounds irresponsible, I know. But it is the mark of true freedom, Syreena. To follow one's heart and instinct above all else. I may not have much of a heart, but I do know that much."
With that daunting remark, he reached to press a lingering kiss to her forehead and then turned to leave her.
Everything inside Syreena wanted to jump at him, leap at him and grab him, hold him in place so he could not leave. Her skin screamed with his absence, her pumping heart abusing her with a flood of sickening dread that rushed her every major artery. It was as if he held a tether to her spirit, and he was ripping it free of her as he went.
"Damien! Damien, wait!"
She launched herself at his back before he could cross the threshold. Her hands hit his shoulders, her chest slamming into his back as she wrapped her arms around him. Her eyes stung with tears, tears of such sudden relief she could hardly breathe.
Damien closed his eyes, a pained expression flitting over his features as he reached to enfold one of the hands grasping him. He struggled within himself for a long minute as she clung to him with such desperate need. He wanted to stay. More than anything. But she had so many doubts. He could not bear it if he caused them both a great deal of pain simply because he could not bring himself to be patient and to do the right thing.
"Syreena…" he argued hoarsely.
"No! You are right. It is my choice! No one can make it for me. Not even parts of myself. All I know is that I cannot bear for you to leave me with a totality of being I have never experienced before in all of my life. Every grain of life inside of me protests it. Damien, please…"
Damien turned slowly, letting her push herself into the entire length of his body, although the intimacy of the contact was so taxing to his strength of will.
"And ten minutes from now, you will doubt me all over again," he whispered into her hair.
"No. No, I won't."
"You cannot be sure of that."
"Yes, I can! Yes, Damien, I can."
She reached for both of his hands quickly, bringing them up her body until his fingers were resting around her throat.
His touch fell on precious metal, gold and moonstones, the necklace that was her badge of royalty.
Damien understood her intent immediately.
There was mysticism attached to these remarkable pieces of Lycanthrope jewelry. They were capable of always fitting the wearer, no matter what shape or form they were in, transforming as they did. But more significantly, no one knew the secret to how to remove it. The legend of the jewelry said that there was only one way it could ever be removed.
By the hand of the royal's one true mate.
"If it is meant to be, your touch will tell me so."
"I see," he said softly. "So you cannot decide after all. You must once again depend on something outside of yourself."
Damien tried not to feel the painful disappointment that shuddered through him, but it was too strong and too encompassing. He pulled away from her, a bit forcefully under the might of his emotion, and pushed her hard from himself.
"Grow up, little girl," he snapped as his temper reeled out of rein. "Until you do, do not torment me with your teasing and empty pledges. Despite rumors to the contrary, even my heart is sensitive."
With that, he violently morphed into the form of the raven and left her.
Shocked into paralysis, her numb fingers still on her throat where she had led him to touch her, Syreena stood unmoving and unfeeling for a moment. Then she was overwhelmed with pain. Unable to control her own body a second longer, she collapsed onto the floor of her bedroom.
"Elijah, this is not like her at all," Siena said worriedly.
The giant blond man reached out to stop his wife's jittery pacing, drawing her curvaceous body into his, nuzzling her neck where her collar usually was when they were outside of their bedroom. In her unceasing worry over the well-being of her young sister, Siena had forgotten her badge of office that day.
It allowed him the advantage of exploiting the spot on her throat that he knew was terribly sensitive for her. He could always distract her with a kiss in that place. It worked, a pleased sigh leaving her as she cuddled voluntarily closer to him. He smiled against the sweet scent of her neck.
"Kitten, you need to stop worrying about a woman who is over one hundred years old."
"She could be a thousand years old, Elijah, and she will still be my sister."
Elijah knew that, and regretted making it sound otherwise, but he felt as though Siena was overprotective of the Princess, who was obviously able to care for herself. Unfortunately, since Ruth had harmed Syreena, Siena had been even more concerned with her sister's safety and soundness of mind.
"You know I didn't argue that," he admonished her gently. She could read his thoughts, so he knew this was true. "Syreena is entitled to her privacy and her pouts just as any of us are. The last time you tromped through the house in a fit, she was wise enough to give you space. You need to respect her in kind and trust her to come around to you when she needs you."
"I do," she argued.
"You don't. You expect her to advise you, but she never lets you advise her, and that puts you out. So you simply hand out commands and instructions and stick your pert little nose where it probably does not belong."
"Siena, if I was going to lie to you, I would make a terrible husband. Who can fearlessly tell a queen her faults, if not her mate?"
Siena released a signature growl of frustration, trying to push him away so she could be vexed without the warmth of his comfortable body to distract her from it. But moving him was like trying to move a mountain. He didn't budge unless he wanted to.
"Don't sulk, kitten," he murmured close to her ear.
"Stop trying to charm me when I am mad at you!"
"I have no charm, sweetheart. You know that."
"You are nothing but a bully. You always have been." Her accusation had no punch, however, because she laid her cheek against his shoulder and easily stopped trying to fight him for the sake of her temper. "I am lost without her, Elijah. She is always the steady and practical voice in my ear."
"There is another voice now, kitten," he reminded her. "And Syreena must be free to go her own way. The days of locking her up in safety are long past. I know you realize that."
"Siena," he scolded.
"Elijah, she is so sad. I feel it with every fiber of my soul. And I know it is somehow Damien's doing. I want to find him and beat the sense out of him!"
Elijah understood her frustration all too well. He glanced over the edge of the balcony in which they stood, looking down at the Princess who was sitting in sad solitude in a lonely alcove, below and across from where they stood. Syreena had been inconsolable over the past couple of days. Though she showed no obvious emotion, there was no spark of interest or concern within her for anything but her own thoughts. He was aware that Siena had even tried to fabricate concerns, trying to draw her out in the role of advisor at the very least. Siena's sister had merely put her Queen off, claiming to be unwell, busy elsewhere, or any other convenient excuse she could think of to go sit in her own company.
The warrior tried not to be angry with the Princess for the distress she was causing his wife. The problem was more Siena's than it was Syreena's, as he had already pointed out to her. Still, when she hurt, it hurt him. It was the nature of the way they were mated. He could accept that one slight flaw, though, because of all the benefits that also came with such a depth of connection.
He had been tempted to approach Damien himself several times. Just for the sake of understanding. Or, perhaps, it was because Siena wished for it so vehemently. Sometimes her desires were so powerful, he could mistake them for his own. The reverse was also true. So he maintained his ideals about the situation, hoping the sensibility of it would eventually rub off on her.
"I would not bet the castle on it," she retorted tartly.
Elijah chuckled at her, pressing an affectionate kiss into her sprung-up hair.
"I am hopeful, Siena, not an idiot," he informed her with amusement.
Jasmine ran absent fingers over the spines of books, slowly reading what titles she could, looking for something, anything, to help her in her search.
Her home was in turmoil because its master was equally so. Though he was far more adamant about keeping the matter to himself this time around, Jasmine was almost positive he had faced some sort of rejection at the whim of the Lycanthrope Princess.
Damn her to hell anyway, Jasmine thought with easy venom.
Damien was not used to being gainsaid, nor was he accustomed to the rejection of a woman. Considering the hope and unusual idealism the Prince was investing in the ungrateful chit, Jasmine imagined it was all the more painful and scarring to the male Vampire's ego to be rejected.
Without knowing why this had come to pass in so unsatisfactory a manner, she was left to guess. In her concern for Damien's well-being, even though she was convinced the little snob did not deserve him, Jasmine had to find proof without prejudice to support her Prince's pursuit of the foreign baggage he had taken such a fancy to. It was the only way to rectify the situation. If Jasmine could prove that Damien's theories were couched in fact, then the shapechanger would have to at least listen and consider the possibilities.
She only wished that she could read faster.
Damien walked his dark gardens, his thoughts deeply fixated on a frustrating woman half the world away from him. She may as well have been sitting in his lap whispering her doubts and insecurities into his ear over and over again. He had not hunted once since he had last seen her, and the cold of his body matched the ice coating his soul. As distracted as he was by thoughts and emotion, it would not be wise to walk the world and expose himself to the innumerable dangers that could await him. He would end up getting himself killed if he was not careful.
As it was, he was aware of powerful presences flitting too close to his home and territory. They were Vampires, two of them, and they were lurking in wait for an opportunity to confront him. Normally he would have faced them down immediately, but he was uninterested and disinclined to do so at the moment. Let them come and take their chances, he thought wearily. What did he live for, but to amuse the occasional embodiment of avarice? Let them covet his position, his grounds, and his home if they liked.
They could have it all, for all he cared in that moment. Jasmine would be fine on her own. She had told him more than enough times that she did not need him to protect her or advise her. She had been telling the truth of it. He had probably been using her as an excuse to remain aboveground for these many decades. He had needed her far more than she had ever needed him.
Which seemed to be a running theme in the women he was attracting of late.
It had been well over two nights since he had left her. In all this time, she still could not make a choice? Why should that surprise him, he asked himself. She had not made a free choice for herself in her entire life. It might well take another one hundred years before she would be able to figure out how.