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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
But Damien was no normal Vampire.
Nicodemous charged Damien, but the Prince disappeared before his eyes. Sensing a trick, he whirled around, trying to break the illusion so he could seek his enemy's true location. All he saw was that infernal Lycanthrope falcon flying above his head.
Nico suddenly felt his body exploding from back to front, unimaginable pain tearing through his chest wall and his heart. He looked down in shock as a ragged branch protruded with a burst of blood through his chest.
He whipped around, staggering as he yanked the opposite end of the limb out of the hands of his attacker. His eyes widened with astonishment when he saw the Lycanthrope bitch standing where he had just stood, his blood sprayed across her bare skin and remnants of bark falling from the arm she wasn't favoring.
Nico whipped his head around to find the bird he had seen earlier. The deception exposed, he saw it for the raven that it actually was. Damien had used the bird to make him think he knew the location of the female, so she could attack him from behind.
Realizing he was defeated and in peril of losing his life, Nico went for a hasty retreat. The branch spearing his body struck just about every other tree branch on the way up from the forest floor and into the air above the canopy, the pain of it indescribable. Nico did not give it much thought, however. Wherever Damien had disappeared to, Nico could bet he would not let him escape with his head if he caught him.
He need not have worried. Damien's first concern was what it always had been.
After a clumsy landing, Damien changed back into his natural form. Syreena watched him expand from the shape of the raven to the shape of a man kneeling at her feet. His hand went to the wound at his side automatically in an attempt to stanch the heavy flow of blood as he got to his feet and dragged Syreena up against his body.
"Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"
"Shh, yes, I'm okay…and yes, he hurt me. Not as bad as he hurt you, just a broken arm and few more lost feathers. I am so glad to see you!" She wrapped her uninjured arm around his neck, hugging him with all of her strength.
"Ditto," he said with relief, exhaling with it now that he had heard her talk and felt her warmth. He glanced up at the treetops and sky. "It's not safe here. It is not uncommon for a second Vampire to attack after he thinks the mark has been worn out by a first one. Let us return to the house so we can add Jasmine to our forces."
"Okay. I think, for once, I am actually going to be happy to see her!"
Damien chuckled at that. He scooped her up and flew up into the night sky with incredible speed.
"Lois Lane, eat your heart out," she sighed against his neck.
"Well, it is definitely broken."
Gideon, an Ancient Demon of the Body and a healer without measure, moved his fingers gingerly over Syreena's arm.
"As you know, I cannot yet heal Lycanthropes," he continued, "but I can set it and let your natural healing abilities take over from there."
"Damien, I am so glad you brought her home," Siena said gratefully, resting a hand on his shoulder.
"Well, with two out of three of us injured, I figured a change in venue was the best choice," Damien explained, wincing as he shifted position in the chair he had pulled up to Syreena's bedside.
"This is ridiculous. He's hurt ten times worse than I am," Syreena complained, trying to wave the Demon medic away as she sat up.
"And bled all the way from California to here," Jasmine chimed in.
"Gideon stopped the bleeding already. Syreena is more important at the moment."
"Damien, you need to hunt. Very soon," Jasmine argued. "You are cold as death and weak as well."
"After Gideon is done, we will have a hunt. I will not leave Syreena until then."
"Damien," she said in consternation. "She is not going to die if you leave her."
"That is enough, Jasmine."
Jasmine fell silent, clearly angry and put out by his behavior, which was so impractical and impossible for her to understand. The Princess had just staked one of Damien's strongest enemies, literally with one arm behind her back. Though the myth of staking fell short of the instant death it was reputed to have, once Nico removed it he could bleed to death very quickly. Syreena had very likely killed him. It was not as if she were some frail flower of a woman or anything. She could not be so. That kind of woman would have turned Damien's stomach in an instant.
Sacrificing his health to see to a mere broken arm was ridiculously illogical. For once, Jasmine was in agreement with the Lycanthrope.
"Very well, then. At least drink from me to sustain yourself," she said, sweeping back her ebony hair and moving closer to him.
Damien's warning tone came only a second before a threatening, predatory growl erupted from the woman he sat near. Jasmine's dark eyes snapped to the Princess, instantly reading the threat that had wired her entire body. She comprehended immediately that this was a territorial vocalization. If there was one thing she knew, it was the reaction of someone warning others off their property.
How dare she interfere, Jasmine thought in outrage. Who does she think she is? I have supported and sustained Damien all of my life!
"Very well. Have it your way," she snapped at them. Then, with that supernatural speed all Vampires were blessed with, she tore out of the underground Lycanthrope castle.
Once she was gone, Syreena turned regretful eyes to her mate. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that."
"I think you do," Siena said consolingly. "I would do the same if a woman offered herself up to Elijah right in front of me. It was insensitive for her to do that."
"No. She was only being practical," Damien said quietly. "Jas is practical to a fault. You and she are more alike than you realize, Syreena. She sees me as someone worthy of protecting. She has been loyal to me all of her life, in the way that you would be loyal to your sister. Be patient with her. None of us understands the nature of what has happened between us, and it has been such a sudden thing." Damien waved off the serious topic, turning back to Gideon. "Are you certain she will heal properly, old friend?"
"It is broken, not shattered. The bruising looks bad, I know, but I assure you it will mend once it is set. If you doubt me, perhaps you should gain access to one of the healer Monks."
"I do not doubt you in the least," Damien returned surely. "It was a question I am certain you would ask yourself were you forced to put Magdelegna's health in someone else's hands. We Nightwalkers are just very protective of our wives."
Damien raised Syreena's healthy hand to his lips, so he missed the delighted look Siena shot to her husband, who was leaning back against the wall of the room with casual ease as he observed all the personal dynamics unfolding before him. Elijah knew Siena was soaring with joy for her sister having found such apparent happiness, especially after the days of worry Syreena had put her through recently. The Warrior Captain was, of course, glad to have his wife in good spirits again. However, he would reserve opinion on the rest of the matter. If the joining of a Lycanthrope and a Demon had been incredibly difficult, Elijah figured that a union between a Lycanthrope and a Vampire would be damn near impossible.
Obviously that did not include emotions or physicality, he realized as he watched Damien's intimacy with Syreena. For all their bangs and bruises, there was no mistaking their feelings and the tracks of themselves that each had left upon the other. That they were mated was unquestionable. That they were in love was also clear. But Elijah remembered the pause that had come after his similar experiences with Siena. The fact of the matter was that they were members of two completely differing societies, both with positions of great influence, responsibility, and obligations.
Elijah glanced back to his wife. He realized instantly that she was aware of his thoughts. Though she was pretending to remain focused on Gideon's manipulation of her sister's arm, her eyes were suddenly upset and disturbed. As were her thoughts.
She looked up at him briefly, her expression and thoughts feeding into him instantly.
Can our people ever accept two alien men as mates to their monarchs? They have barely begun to accept you, my love.
I know, kitten, he thought in return. What is worse, Vampires may very well try to slaughter their ruler if he thinks to take a Lycanthrope bride.
But Vampires hold no ill will toward us!
Vampires have very few rules in life, Siena, so those they do have are very seriously frowned upon if they are broken. For some reason, it is against their laws for Damien to feed from your sister. Add this to their greed for power and the position that Damien holds, and it bodes ill for their safety and well-being overall.
He could have tried to lie to her, to comfort and coddle her delusions of her sister's potential happiness, but he was a leader of warriors and she a queen. Both required the hard practicality of reality in order to be of any use in their positions and to those who depended on them. Even if Siena had not been able to read his thoughts, she always needed to face the blatant truth of things. There were no coddling fairytales for a queen…not for a good one.
And his wife was an exceptional one.
So if they stay here, they meet with censure and hostility. If they stay there, they meet the same or worse.
Elijah looked down at the stone floor for a second, his wife's anxiety almost too much to bear from across a crowded room where he could not get to her to comfort her without being terribly obvious to the objects of their concern.
If you touched me now, I would start to cry like a child, she told him.
I know. That is the only thing keeping me against this wall at the moment, kitten.
Siena turned her head, her golden lashes blinking rapidly as she felt the burn of tears anyway.
"Hey, babe, let's leave these two with the doctor." Elijah spoke up suddenly, moving across the room to fetch his wife from between Damien and Gideon with a single smooth pull. "Why watch the doctor when we can be playing it instead," he teased, giving Syreena a sly look of mischief.
The Princess laughed at him as he swept her sister into the corridor without another word. Once outside the door, he drew his mate to the comfort of his embrace and all the shoulder she would ever need to cry on.
Damien reached to place a gentle kiss of pure affection on Syreena's forehead. She was asleep, so the gesture went completely unnoticed. He was sitting on the bed next to her, or rather, half beneath her. She had fallen asleep in a semi-upright position, her back nestled to his chest. He touched her hair, the living tendrils shifting beneath his fingers, some moving away, and some wending lightly over them.
He realized that he had some hard choices ahead of him.
Jasmine, for one. He could not be the rope in a tug-of-war between the two women who meant the most to him. He needed to find a solution as soon as possible. He mostly wanted to talk to Jasmine and make sure she understood there was nothing for her to be so afraid of. He was not going to abandon her, and he was positive that Syreena would not wish for him to do so, either. Territorial was one thing, jealous even another, but demanding that he choose between the person he considered his most valued friend and her? She would never ask it.
Jasmine, unfortunately, was not above such a demand. That was the nature of Vampire selfishness. He knew that, and he suspected even Syreena knew that. What he could not understand was why Jasmine would feel threatened all of a sudden. They had walked the world together for five hundred years. What on earth did she think was going to make that change?
He had also realized exactly what kind of danger he was exposing Syreena to. Nico's aggressive actions against them had shown him that. Damien was used to battling for his throne. It was simply a fact of his life. However, he no longer had the luxury of being blase about it. The possibility of meeting death had always been an incidental thought. He had always figured that it simply would not matter; that if it happened, it was meant to happen. It was the price he would pay for a millennium of life and for the privilege of being the longest surviving Prince in all of Vampire history.
Now he had other interests to consider.
He had only just found her, so he was hardly eager to lose her or to have her lose him. He could not bear the idea of causing her that much pain.
And there would be unspeakable pain.
He knew, without a doubt, that Syreena loved him. She had not spoken of it yet, probably not even to herself. He could accept that, considering how quickly everything had come about for her. What really mattered was that she felt it. Though unacknowledged, it was in her thoughts and it was in her spirit. He would have known it to be the truth even if he had no insight into her mind. He had understood that the moment she had sacrificed herself to Nico in order to warn him of danger.
Damien knew she could have found escape if she had only run a couple of yards in the opposite direction. The cliffside at the point where she had met Nicodemous was only that far away. It would have been nothing for her to leap off it and down into the water below. Whether or not she could change into the dolphin, she had every water-born instinct in her human form she would need to survive the plunge and swim out of reach of Nico's grasp. He never would have followed her down such a treacherous fall. To him, it would have been suicidal; to her, it would have been like breathing.
Instead, she had run toward him. As promised, she had used every ounce of advantage and strength she had to try and return to him. In this case, to give him fair warning. Damien had fought Nico once before and, though it was a challenge, he would have defeated him with or without warning this time as well. Of course, she had no way of knowing that, really, so she had done what she thought she had to do to protect him.