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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
She laughed even harder when he drew their entwined bodies away from the counter and dropped with obvious weakness onto a nearby bench in the breakfast nook.
"Nice nook," she chuckled.
"Nice cranny," he rejoined, wiggling his eyebrows lecherously.
Syreena laughed so hard that she nearly fell out of his lap.
In the hallway, leaning against the wall just outside the entrance to the kitchen, stood Jasmine. She had turned away from the scene a moment before Damien's turn in position would have revealed her. He was so wrapped up in his new toy, literally, that he had not noticed her observation for even a second.
Jasmine was beginning to realize that she was going to end up paying a heavy price for her monarch's happiness. Maybe not right away, but sometime very soon, she would be forced to leave his household. The truth of the matter was, she was far too selfish for her happiness for him to ever outweigh her own self-interests. The Lycanthrope had breezed into their life and changed everything in the matter of a heartbeat.
A heartbeat, compared to five hundred years of friendship.
And the heartbeat was clearly going to win.
Jasmine wished she had the guts to stick it out, but again her feelings for Damien interfered. If she stayed, she would end up in a confrontation with Syreena, and it would probably be a very bad one. Damien loved Jasmine, but he was clearly in love with the little Lycanthrope tart. That meant that anything the two women did to hurt one another would end up hurting him instead.
That was an unacceptable consequence.
Jasmine reached up to brush away the single hot tear that had escaped her control.
Whatever would she do without him?
Damien walked through the quiet house looking for Jasmine. Syreena had left in search of something to eat, promising to return soon. He had passed Jas in the parlor earlier, but a glance told him she was no longer there. He followed his senses to the cellar. Blasted out of solid rock, the cellar was a vault of safety in the event that they felt the need to protect themselves as they slept. There was only one entrance, and it was invisible to human eyes. It also required great strength to remove and replace the stone portal leading to it.
He was disappointed to realize Jasmine had chosen to sleep behind it. He understood it was probably because she did not trust the new presence in their household, and he knew he would have been very likely to do the same thing had the tables been turned.
Still, he could not help his moment of dejection. It passed quickly, however, and he decided to let her rest in peace. They would have plenty of opportunity to talk about the situation later.
Meanwhile, he returned to the ground floor, resealing the hidden entrance to the stairways leading down to the cellar. California homes did not often have basements. It was impractical when there were fault lines rocking and rolling every chance they got. No one would even think to look for such a place, never mind a hidden one. That, plus the heavy bolts on the opposite side, made it virtually impossible to discover.
Damien moved back into the parlor and sat down in the seat Jasmine had been in earlier. Sitting on the table across from him was the volume she was currently studying. With all that had happened, he had practically forgotten about the Library. It occurred to him that he had not had the chance to pick up even a single book from the vast hidden Nightwalker vault.
Amused with himself as he recalled exactly what his distractions were, he stood up and left the book untouched. His desire to shower and change before Syreena returned was stronger.
Jasmine waited until Damien was in the shower.
She moved to the book Damien had left untouched and swept it up in protective arms.
The volume was three times as old as Damien was and it held the explanations to a lot of elusive questions. Yes, these questions were probably answered repetitively in the other books in the Nightwalker Library, but the difference was that Damien was not likely to appear there anytime soon. He no longer seemed interested in such information, no longer seemed to need it, so she had no motivation to share it. If he asked her directly, that would be another story. For the moment, she would be more protective of the old compendium.
What Damien did not know, hopefully would not hurt him.
It was mid-dusk, so it was safe for Syreena to travel.
She was not familiar with the area, but it was easy enough to follow the human roads to the rather large town several miles down the shoreline.
It would have taken less time if she had not been forced to walk.
Damien's marvelous ability to transform, like the Mistrals', allowed his clothing to take shape with him or whatever it was exactly that allowed that to happen. Since Lycanthropes were not so fortunate, walking was Syreena's only alternative unless she wanted to end up shopping in the nude. She did not wish to attract that kind of attention, of course. As it was, Damien had forced her to borrow something of Jasmine's. The female Vampire apparently did not believe in wearing dresses. Syreena felt a bit confined in the silk blouse and kid breeches, not to mention the fact that Jasmine was quite a bit taller than she was.
With her health returned to her, including the additional bounce in her step, the Princess made fast work of the trip. Shortly after arriving at the booming seaside town, however, she recalled the reason why she avoided human dwellings and metropolises.
There were too damn many of them.
It was always overwhelming to her. That was probably because she had not moved about in an area of this type very often, so she did not get the chance to get used to it. Were she a Mistral, she would probably have a heart attack from fear on the spot. To a species who felt, literally, that three was a crowd, this would be a nightmare.
Considering how the human population had grown so rapidly in just her lifetime, Syreena could not fathom how any Nightwalkers were going to manage to remain in perfect isolation for much longer. Even the wild areas humans put aside for conservation efforts were swarming with scientists and tourists. The Monks had always believed that nature would find a way to create balance, but they had never been able to satisfy her points about extinction. Siena was more practical, as were Noah and Damien, she suspected. Siena had made certain the forest land the village and the majority of the royal Lycanthrope territory was situated upon had been purchased a long time ago. What they did not own belonged to communal parks or the government.
What will keep the Nightwalkers from going the way of those species now lost to the planet forever? she wondered. At least in Russia, politics and inhospitable winters had kept the tundra and other lands undeveloped. Even so, species like the Siberian tiger were fast fading from their lands. If something as beautiful as that subspecies of tiger could be so easily disrespected and senselessly murdered, what would prevent the same from happening to Nightwalkers humans deemed dangerous or somehow unworthy?
Humans obviously did not have the same regard for Nightwalkers as Nightwalkers had for humans. The hunters that plagued Damien's and Syreena's people were an example of that. The only defense Nightwalkers had were their enormous powers. Unfortunately, that was balanced with a weakness to daylight that could be too easily exploited. That was worsened by the centuries of folklore about them in human mythos. There were grains of truth in every one of those weird and wild tales, as Damien had once pointed out to her. Enough truth to do terrible damage.
Why she was worrying about such things escaped her for a moment. As she entered the market, she realized it was because, for the very first time, she was considering what would happen in her personal future. Her world of concern had always been limited to what others wished of her. That circle had widened only slightly to include Siena's interests and well-being fifteen years ago. In spite of helping Siena run their populace, she did not have the passion for it that her sister had. She used logic to best decide on things for Lycanthrope welfare as a whole. Siena used that and her vehement heart. Syreena had always been convinced that this was why she could never be the queen her sister was.
Now Damien and, she had to admit, others were making their mark on her and this was broadening her concerns. Because they were making themselves indelible parts of her emotions and psyche, how could she not begin to feel passion for things that would concern their safety? She was not a cold person as many thought; she was merely inexperienced with certain feelings.
Something she seemed to be making up for at a double-timed pace, she thought with a smile.
Syreena scooped up a small handheld basket and walked the happy convenience of the market. The electricity and the refrigeration units were something she had grown to miss over the past years. Lycanthropes loved modern comforts and conveniences, even if they did live in caves, but ever since ambassadors from the Vampire and Demon courts had begun to stay in the Lycanthrope court, Siena had ordered everything be retrograded back to the gas lighting systems and other nontechnological conveniences. The chemistry of those two groups of Nightwalkers did not agree with technology on any level, really. Things had a way of blowing up, shorting out, or otherwise malfunctioning. Now that the Demon Elijah was a permanent fixture at the court, and considering that her new mate was a Vampire, Syreena supposed this was the closest she would get to electricity.
She made some quick choices, so ravenous for so many reasons that she had eaten two apples out of the pre-weighted bag before she even reached the register.
Money was an interesting concept to her. She was used to a royal lifestyle where everything was provided for her and money was just numbers on sheets of paper that listed household expenses and such. She handed over what Damien had given her and got strange looks when she actually laughed at the feel of cold coins in her palm. She was still inspecting their shape and design as she walked out of the market.
She had barely cleared the parking lot when all of her senses suddenly flared with alert.
Someone was tracking her.
She wasn't immediately alarmed. It was not Ruth's way to track someone of her ilk, giving her prey the opportunity to become aware of her presence behind them. Syreena was suspicious, however, because she sensed that it was not a human who was slipping from shadow to shadow behind her.
Neither was it Damien. She would have known that immediately. He was fast becoming an extension of herself, so it would be like not knowing where her left hand was.
She dropped her coins into her shopping bag and absently ran a nervous finger along the waistband of the snug breeches. Fleeing from a loose dress was one thing; escaping these clothes if she needed to change rapidly was close to impossible.
So be it, she thought firmly to herself. She was no slouch at hand to hand, in spite of her failures with Ruth. She was not the first Nightwalker to have been harmed or even defeated by that Demon's wicked power, and some of those who had met defeat at Ruth's hands had been the most powerful creatures on the planet.
She let her pursuer follow her as far as he was going to. The closer she got to Damien's territory, the better off she would be.
Just in case.
She felt him closing in on her-and it was definitely a male-just before she reached the borders of Damien's property. Though it was still some distance into the acreage to the house, she marked the fact that she was being confronted before she could reach that specific border. It told her that whoever was behind her was aware of its significance.
She stopped short and turned to face her stalker. "I know you are there."
He stepped out of the shadows instantly. He was tall and slim, pale and redheaded. Wild curling hair had been forced into a tail very much like Damien's, only not as sleek or neat as the Prince managed. He was giving her a smile, holding out his palms in a neutral gesture.
"No harm intended. I was just watching out for you."
A Vampire. She had never met him before, but she knew he was by his lack of heat and his classic Vampiric features. Plus, he had no discernable pulse.
"Damien sent you?" she asked calmly.
"Well, after a fashion. He would not tell me to do that, because I am certain you would take a bit of offense to the idea."
"You would be correct. So you took it upon yourself to offend me?"
"Not intentionally," he assured her. "I am just doing what any friend of the Prince would do when it comes to the protection of his…other friends."
Syreena knew what he meant by "other friends." Her brow furrowed in momentary consternation. Since no one but Damien and Jasmine knew about her relationship with the Prince-no one from his world that she knew of, at least-that would mean that Damien had run out and sent someone to tail her the moment she had left his home…or that Jasmine had done something similar.
Since Jasmine seemed to be a bit too cold toward her to care, Syreena was forced to assume Damien was responsible. It disturbed her to think that he did not trust her to take care of herself. Was that the impression she had given him? Granted, he had been forced to rescue her and she hadn't given the impression that she was very good at making the best choices for herself, but she thought he knew her just a little better than that.
"Who are you?"
"Nicodemous. But everyone calls me Nico."
"Well, Nico, I was curious as to just how far we were going to carry this charade," she asked, watching him with a neutral expression, betraying nothing of her feelings of the moment.
He became instantly uncomfortable. "Charade?" he echoed.
"Yes. Do we walk up to the house boldly together, or do we pretend my Prince has succeeded in guarding me without my knowledge?"
"Your…" He relaxed, smiled boyishly and chuckled. "Your Prince would be a bit put out if he saw us walking up to the manse together."
"Then I suppose you should get back to your skulking," she said, giving him a dismissing wave as she turned to continue her journey.
"But!" he said quickly, reaching for her arm to pull her to a stop. "But I would not wish to lie to him."