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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
And he would be damned if he was going to sit around waiting for her.
Not in a way that would continue to be as painful as this was proving to be.
On some level, Damien was aware of his affectations, their causes and the logic to them. However, the harder he tried to reason himself out of his despair, the worse it seemed to become. He was thwarted by the catch-22 of needing something beyond all reason, and needing that something to have a reason for being with him beyond her ability to reason.
It made no sense, and yet all the sense in the world. It was the only truth he wanted to hear. He was deaf to all others.
Unaccustomed to this depth of feeling, Damien was floundering. That, he supposed, was because he was doing the opposite of what he had done all of his life. He was acting against instinct. His inner compass pointed back to Russia, yearning to go to Syreena and make her understand what it would mean to her to choose him. Why could he not be satisfied with her logic? It would get him what he wanted, just not the way he wished to get it. What did it matter, if the end result was the same?
But it would not be the same, and it was instinct that told him that as well. If he manipulated her choice, coerced her decision, he would leave her too much room for doubt. If she could not believe in him now, she would not believe in him in the long run. He was positive that everything inside Syreena was screaming for him, just as he cried out for her. Yet she fought herself and resisted and stumbled around waiting for someone to tell her what the right choice was.
In her heart and soul, she should already know.
Like he knew.
If she wanted guarantees, she would find them only inside herself. He had already said all he could on the matter. But apparently that was not enough for her. And why should it be? She did not trust herself, never mind anyone else.
Damien made his way to the bench that had become like a second home for him. He straddled the cold stone and sat down, gripping the edge of the seat in tight, icy hands as he turned toward the wind blowing with wintry chill off the ocean.
He was tired and weakening. He was aware of this. Soon he would be forced to either snap himself out of his gloom, or he would have to go to ground, hiding himself from the above world. It was the only way he could survive. If he remained in this state, it was only a matter of time before someone challenged him. In his present condition, he had little hope of winning.
Let them take it all while he slept protected in the earth. Syreena's indecision might be killing him slowly, but he would be damned if he would let his greedy brethren pick over the bones.
Let them have it.
It meant very little anymore.
When Damien woke hours later, it was to find himself looking up into a sky pinking with the dawn.
He sat up quickly, realizing suddenly that he had fallen asleep on the stone garden bench. As he did so, he faced the full force of the rising sun. He flinched hard, throwing up a hand to protect his eyes even as they began to sting with painful tears from the exposure. A couple of days ago, while at peak strength, he could have born this early breach of sunlight. In his weakened state, it was another story entirely.
He cursed himself for his carelessness and struggled to his feet while protecting his exposed skin with the turn of his body. He turned to hurry back to the house, his need for protective shade quite sharp in his mind and on his skin.
Then, as if deciding the entire thing was a trick of mind over matter, he stopped all progress toward shelter.
He dropped his hands slowly and turned back toward the growing sunrise. He realized then what a beautiful thing the deadly sun could be. It, too, was a predator of sorts. Only it was at the top of every food chain. It fed on everything. The sun gobbled up the darkness with a quick and gluttonous appetite. Then it nibbled or chomped at Nightwalkers as if they were dessert. It sapped the energy from Demons, it made Lycanthropes blister and boil as essential nutrients were violently withdrawn from their bodies.
For him, it would nibble at his flesh in bit-by-bit burns, until he truly was nothing but ashes and dust, devoid of water, blood, and life of any kind.
"Damien, what are you doing?"
Jasmine grabbed at the Prince, panic flying over her with the wild, galvanizing need for action. She was more than powerful enough to force Damien to her will while he was in this state of lethargy. She seized him and dragged him with blinding speed into the manse, behind the safety of strongly tinted windows and tightly drawn drapes.
Out of immediate danger, she turned more gentle, helping Damien find a seat on a large sofa before a cold fireplace. Once he was seated, she dropped to her knees in front of him, wedging them between his ankles as she clasped his cold hands in hers with a grip of fearful anger and concern.
"Damien, she is not worth this! No woman is worth your life! You could have been killed. Please…I am begging you to stop hurting yourself like this."
The attention he turned to her was only half there, the distance in his eyes telling her how unreachable some of the most integral parts of himself truly were. It was as though this silly woman had stolen the heart out of him. He was grieving, and she felt it keenly from him. So much so that her perception of it nearly drove the usually serene Vampire to tears.
"Damien," she cried in a whispered, hitching voice.
Jasmine threw her arms around his neck, hugging him as hard as she could, consoling him as she assured herself that he was safe and alive. She realized she could not leave him again. It was too dangerous. That, however, was only a temporary stopgap. If he did not hunt, Damien would fall into torpor. It would only take another couple of days for that to happen. Since she had never experienced the other side of the equation, Jasmine was overwhelmed with understanding of what she had put Damien through each of the several times she had fallen into it herself.
He was so cold to the touch, and it added to the chill his mental state was leaving on her soul. If she could be in a room with that thoughtless, coldhearted bitch of a Lycanthrope for two minutes, then Damien would truly have something to grieve for. Jasmine wanted to kill her.
The passion of the thought was so strong that Jasmine's fangs appeared with aggression and hostility. She made an angry vocalization, rocking her beloved friend in consolation still, in spite of her naked outrage.
"Damien," she murmured into his ear, her fingers stroking down the back of his head and his braid. "You must feed. Come," she coaxed softly, drawing back her hair as she settled his mouth to her neck. She had fed herself only an hour before dawn, so the scent of the hunt and the heat of the prey's blood she had taken were still evocatively fresh. "Let me sustain you," she pleaded in his ear.
Damien was only dimly aware of any appeal her offering might have. Therefore, it was easy for him to turn away. He had no appetite, no desire to experience the feelings that accompanied a feed, especially that from a female.
Even if it was Jasmine.
He pried himself out of her grasp, discarding her invitation as he stood on his feet and stepped over her kneeling form.
Without a word, he left her. He retired to his chambers where he would sleep the rest of the day until darkness moved over the world again.
The first thing to penetrate Damien's sleeping senses was the gentle scent of lavender.
It shocked him out of the depths of sleep and he sat up with a sudden movement, twisting around so he could see the entire room.
In the night of the room, he could see the shape of a vase near his bed, and it was full of fresh flowers and branches, including heather and lavender.
His heart sank along with his unexpected, and now crushed, hope, and in a fit of rage he grabbed the offending vessel and threw it across the room. The glass burst, sending water and blossoms everywhere.
Was he so awful a creature that she could not possibly reconcile herself to spending a lifetime with him? That she could not even bear to try? Was this the ultimate trick of fate? He had committed a long list of sins in his many years, so maybe this was the ebb of a painful karma he must suffer.
Damien growled dangerously, warning the outer forces of the world to back off him. Hadn't he compensated for his flaws as best he could through the centuries? How many lives had he saved, how many improved, because of his careful interference and selection? He had lost count long before he had saved the life of the English queen who had lived to reign with remarkable strength for nearly seventy years. He had always thought that the gifts of the Elizabethan Renaissance had been an extraordinary contribution to the development of the human race. It was an era that might never have existed had the Queen died of smallpox that year he had met her.
Was there no karma for those things? Was there no angel of mercy and appreciation flying around him now, acknowledging that he had committed dozens of such integral acts, and now it was time that he experience the peace of a thriving renaissance full of freedom, unimagined beauty, and, most of all, love?
He had never believed Vampires to be the demons they were commonly thought to be, but if dwelling in the depths of hell made him a fiend, then a monster he most definitely was, because this existence could only be described as unadulterated hell.
His pique of temper had only made the spread of the scent of lavender worse within his bedroom, he realized after a moment. He got out of bed, throwing aside the sheets that had become snarled around him as he had slept fitfully. He strode across the room to his wardrobe, determined to dress and force himself to hunt that night. Perhaps force was not even necessary. As his emotions elevated, his desire for a savage stalking rose in equal measure. It was dangerous to hunt by emotion alone, but at that point, he did not care. It was better to risk his life trying to regain his health than it was to drift further into the self-serving pity he was dwelling in as if he would make a permanent home of it.
But first, he thought as he pulled on a pair of slacks with jerks of driven irritation, first he was going to burn those cursed flowers and get that scent out of his house.
Damien did not even grab a shirt as he angrily turned to do just that.
And nearly knocked over Syreena in the process.
He automatically reached to steady her, his hand closing on her arm around her bare bicep. He felt himself immediately drawn in by the soft texture of her skin and the amazing sculpture of the sure muscle beneath. She was so warm, especially compared to him. Through the shadows of the night and the room, he could see her strange eyes, especially the gray one, looking at him as if she could see right through to his back.
Damien was stunned that she was even there. However, his recent bout with false hope only minutes ago had jaded any chance of him feeling that optimism again. And in spite of his surprise, he was still quite livid. Since she was the source of it, he took no pleasure in seeing her.
Or so he told himself.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded coldly. "Come to torture your pitiful suitor with your vacillations and never-ending questioning of his intentions?"
"No," she said, her dulcet voice alien in the harsh emotion filling the room as it emanated from him.
"Go home, Syreena," he said roughly, failing as he tried to keep the emotion out of his voice. "I do not have the answers you are looking for."
Damn her, he hated it when she spoke his name. She always said it in such a way, in such a tone, that she could turn his nerves inside out upon themselves. It was unfair that she could provoke a response in him when she was so clearly cold to him in return. In spite of her earlier responses to him physically, she had proven to be frigid toward him when it truly counted.
"Do not say another word," he warned her, holding up a hand in a sharp gesture that made her jump in her own skin a fraction of an inch. "You have had three days and nights to speak to me, Syreena, and your opportunity is gone."
Or it will be, he thought vehemently, as soon as I can get away from her and get some fresh, revitalizing warmth into my system.
Syreena understood why he was angry with her. He was right, after all. She had spent days balancing on the edge of a choice.
A choice, she had suddenly realized, that was never truly a matter of selection.
It was what Damien had seemed to know from the start. The only choice she could make was to ignore the demands of her heart and her spirit, both of which she had tried to ignore no matter how loudly they had screamed at her. In truth, there was no choice.
She was meant to be his, and he was meant to be hers.
She had searched day after day for outside proof of this, only to realize that there was none, and never would be. The proof was stamped in the desires of her soul. It was the instinct that had been born in her, flipped on like a switch, the moment it had flipped on as brilliantly in him.
Only he had seen the light, and she had been blinded by it. "Damien," she protested gently, needing to tell him that she understood now. She comprehended all he had been trying to say, as well as understanding exactly how much he had accepted on faith and feeling while she had floundered around and caused him what must have been an unbearable agony of the heart. If she had been in pain these three days, then he had been in torment.
"I said you are not to speak to me!" he snarled in sudden temper, coming so close to her with his violent emotion that she took a reflexive step back.
Then she rethought the action, and shifted her weight back onto her forward foot. She bumped into his aggressive, imposing body as he towered in justifiable outrage.
Damien faltered when she did not give way, instead insinuating herself into his personal space. Her warmth, scent, and presence invaded him like a virus, all the familiar symptoms of reflexive need and desire unfurling along the planes of his form that were closest to her. She raised her hands, the flats of her palms toward him, reaching to touch him on his bare skin over his chest. Like a whip, his hand shot out and grabbed one of her wrists painfully, twisting it and her hand back in order to force her to change her mind about coming into contact with him.