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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Again, he was not used to others stepping in front of him in that kind of role, but he was beginning to become more tolerant of it, not insulted by it. Those actions, in and of themselves, only further proved to him that it was an act of deeply felt love for him.
The last thing to be considered was Siena.
He was telepathically sensitive himself, so he had known the basic nature of the exchange that had passed between the Queen and her mate. Siena feared for her sister's happiness. Parallel to that, she was afraid of the displeasure of her people. He did not have to think too hard to figure out why. He had known what the possible consequences could be if Syreena, Siena's only heir, chose an outlander for a mate. Syreena had known them as well. He had made certain that she did. Siena probably did not realize that this was the source of Syreena's deepest conflict in the entire situation. He understood that this was what had kept her thinking, in spite of horrific sadness, for nearly three days. She had put herself and him through indescribable hurt just so she could make her choice with complete consideration.
"And now, sweetling, I must hunt. I will return to you warmed and hopefully at a better peace," he whispered into her hair.
"No women," she murmured to him, the response so sleepy she was barely awake.
"None whatsoever. I promise."
Her only response was a sleepy sigh. He smiled against her and then gently eased himself from beneath her. He carefully arranged her and her injured arm so that pillows mostly took his place supporting her. He would not go far, nor would he be long. He could not manage it in his present condition in any event, and he wanted to be back by her side before she even noticed he was gone.
Every other concern was secondary to that.
Nicodemous kept up his flight for as long as he calculated he could. He realized soon enough that Damien was more interested in tending his harlot than chasing him, and he supposed he was grateful for that.
It did not keep him from being livid beyond reason.
If he ever got his hands on that devious, backstabbing little Lycanthrope whore, he would gut her with his best silver knife in an instant.
Unfortunately, he had to survive the removal of this cursed stick of wood first.
He landed awkwardly somewhere in the Nevada desert shortly after that thought. There was method to this particular place. It would hurt like being staked out in the sun, but sand was his quickest choice to fill the gaping wound the removal of the branch would cause him. At least within the area he had been forced to flee to. After packing the wound, he would find shelter out of the sun and the path of humans or animals and resign himself to torpor while his body healed.
It would help if he could hunt. He would never be able to in this condition, but fresh blood was always a Vampire's best resource when it came to speeding the healing process. Since he did not have a choice in the matter, he would settle for torpor. At least he would be able to sleep and mull over exactly what it was that had gone wrong. He couldn't put his finger on it, but Nico was positive something strange was going on.
A Vampire bedding a Lycanthrope was strange enough, but Damien, the so-called Lawful Prince, had drunk her Nightwalker blood. More than once, by the look of the marks. There were a great many Vampires who, if they had only known about that, would take serious umbrage to it. Perhaps this would be something he could exploit at a later date.
But there was something else besides all of that. There had to be. He was too old and too experienced to not know when strange things were afoot. Damien was the best at playing mind games, but there was something about the whole trick of the falcon and the raven that was grating on his intellect.
Nico lowered himself to his knees, bracing them far apart as he closed his hands around the branch.
This would be easier to do and survive if that worthless son of his had not turned tail and run off like a weeping woman, he thought angrily. He had known that Cyril was going to make an attempt at the woman, just as he had known Cyril was haunting the edges of Damien's territory for the past few days. The idiot child got grades for ambition, but that was just about all he had earned in his father's eyes. The rest had been sloppy and stupid and far outside of Cyril's capabilities. Nico had no idea what his son had been thinking, trying to find a way to take on Damien.
At least Nico was smart enough to admit that Damien had been the longest reigning Vampire Prince because he deserved it. The Prince was no slouching figurehead, that much was certain. But each battle taught Nico a little bit more. If he survived this one, he would be more than willing to gamble on his success at a third try.
"Do you need some help with that?"
Nico looked up with a start. He was in so much pain and so drained of essential fluids, he had not even heard the approach of the stranger who addressed him. He looked her over with sharp black eyes. She was tall, excessively so for a woman, and she had the longest blond hair he had seen in some time. She was young in appearance and extraordinarily beautiful. Her darkly tanned skin told him she was no Vampire, but her matter-of-fact attitude about finding a man stabbed through his heart and still alive in the middle of a desert told him that she was not unfamiliar with Nightwalkers.
She leaned forward, her hands braced on her knees as she looked at him with cold, clear blue eyes. He saw fierce intelligence there, as well as a palpable fearlessness that immediately piqued his interest. She was gowned in sheer lilac panels of something like silk or chiffon, but the moon easily back-dropped her figure through the material so that, in shadow, she might as well have been naked.
"I can help you," she whispered to him, her eyes coasting over his wounded body with a sort of covetousness that, had he been a little healthier, would have delighted him no end.
"I expect you will want something in return," he countered. "I can manage by myself."
"I was not speaking only of this nonsense," she said shortly, waving off his crucial injury as if it were merely a splinter in his finger.
"Then tell me what you were speaking of, and make it quick, will you, woman? There is a time issue to be considered here."
"I meant that I could help you get what you want." She smiled prettily when he arched a sarcastic brow at her. She leaned even closer, and he could smell the scent of clover, musk, and frankincense. Strangely, he found the mixture extremely pleasing. "I meant," she purred softly as she touched his face with a hand as soft as kid gloves, "I can get you Damien's head on a pretty platter. A silver platter, with a Lycanthrope heart sitting right next to it."
Nico's eyes narrowed on her and he looked her over once again. "Who are you?"
"I am the one who knows how Damien defeated you. I am the one who knows how to make you stronger than you ever imagined. I am your one true angel, Nicodemous."
With that, she grasped the branch impaling him and jerked it clear of his body. Nico's scream could be heard by every desert creature for miles. In agony and rage, he reached for the woman and dragged her down to her knees before him. Blood poured from his wounds and, since it was very likely that he would die no matter what, he was going to at least give her a good thrashing for taking him off guard like that.
She laughed at him even as his blood splashed across her dress. For a moment, he thought she was completely mad.
Then she laid her slim fingers over his torn flesh and began to whisper softly under her breath. The words were a mixture of Latin and Arabic and about three other languages that he could immediately identify. The rest of it was gibberish to him.
Gibberish or not, whatever she was doing, it was helping. It was as if he could feel his flesh knitting together on the spot, starting with his damaged heart and working its way outward.
"You are a Demon," he accused her softly.
"Mmm," she affirmed, those huge blue eyes of hers beautifully spooky with their depths and emptiness.
"You are using magic. A Demon who casts spells? How is it you are not censured for such a thing?"
Her response was a half-smile and pointed lift to her brow.
"Ahh," he said with sudden clarity. "You would be censured…if they could catch you."
Nicodemous was positively sucked in by this interesting bit of fortune. He realized from what she had said so far that she had some sort of vendetta against Damien or the Lycanthrope female. She had probably seen their earlier battle and had followed him this far in search of an ally. Apparently she had had no luck catching up with her target on her own either.
Perhaps together though…
Between her inborn skills, this magic she had acquired, and his own power…
Nico was dizzy with the possibilities.
"It is very likely blood loss," she said dryly, responding to a thought he had not voiced aloud.
He chuckled. "I do not suppose hunting for blood would be another of your hidden talents, would it?"
"I have a better idea," she whispered eagerly as her bloodstained hands fell away from his repaired body. "Would you like to know how Damien was able to trick you before?"
"Can it wait until after I eat?"
The beautiful blond moved forward suddenly, her hands diving into his fiery-colored hair and her mouth pressing to his. Nico was startled at first, but she was quite a warm and luscious handful of woman, so it did not take him long to get over it. He kissed the forward wench soundly, making damn sure she was gasping for breath by the time he finally released her. She pushed back into another kiss aggressively, her warm body wrapping around him with sinuous sensuality.
It was clear she knew her way around a man. It radiated in the way she moved against him, the way her hands roamed boldly over him. She was also assertive and brazen, which Nico very much liked in a woman.
"Okay, you win," he growled at her, pulling her off his mouth by her hair. He wrapped a fistful of it around his hand and held her perfectly still while he appraised her face. "How did he do it?"
"Would you like to find out?" she asked breathlessly.
"I just said so, didn't I?"
She reached to push back the remainder of her hair, baring her slender, appetizing neck to his starving eyes and craving body.
"Bon appetit," Ruth murmured with a wicked smile.
Jasmine rubbed her chill arms absently as she walked around her room for the third time.
She was not one for material goods, so even though there was a small bag half filled with her clothing, she realized there was nothing else she truly wanted to take with her.
Beside the bag on her bed was the old book she had borrowed from the Nightwalker Library. She moved closer to it, touching its leather cover and the obscure title across its bottom.
It was in Vampyr, their most ancient language, and it simply said: Reasoning.
So modest a title for so profound a topic, she thought with more than a little dejection. She had done nothing but examine and reexamine her reasoning these past forty-eight hours. No matter what she did, she seemed to think herself into circles, logic seeming illogical after a while and everything sounding whiny and emotional in her head if she thought on it long enough. Half the time she felt like a child throwing a tantrum because another child had stolen her favorite toy, and some adult somewhere looming above her was lecturing her on the reasons why she should share.
Share, or have it taken away from you forever. If you cannot share, you cannot play.
Jasmine stomped a foot against the floorboards, even if it did perpetuate the metaphorical image in her mind. She had shared Damien with his women before. Why was she having so much difficulty this time?
"Because she is not Vampire and she does not understand our ways," she complained to the silent manse.
Did a Lycanthrope understand the way Vampires compensated for solitude and boredom with an intimacy of touch that had nothing to do with sex? What of the way Syreena had threatened her when all she had been doing was helping the male Syreena professed to care about? Would the little Princess be upset if Jasmine and Damien spent the entire day behind closed doors merely talking, as they often had before? Vampires were not insulted by being shut away from those who wanted privacy, just as they were not insulted when others behaved with explicitness in the presence of others.
Jasmine could imagine Syreena pitching a fit the first time she strolled in on someone having sex in the common room or saw someone walking naked through the house. The female Vampire was too angry to take into consideration that she had lived in the Lycanthrope court a few weeks here and there over the centuries, and it was a culture almost exactly like her own in that respect. Between the communal baths and the hot springs dotted through the castle, public nudity and sex were often just as frequent, if not more so.
After a few moments, Jasmine reconciled her irrational thinking. She turned and sat next to the compendium on her bed with a deep, dejected sigh.
Whose problem was this anyway? she wondered.
She looked down at her bag and then the book again, taking measure of both. If she packed the rest of her bag and left, who would that be hurting? Only Damien and herself. Syreena could not comprehend the depth of drama in such a change in the household dynamic, so how could it hurt her in any way? Unless she hurt because Damien would hurt. Which would mean she truly did have a serious concern for him.
Which Jasmine did not want to accept.
Jasmine groaned pitifully as she came full circle in her own mind yet again. She flopped back onto her mattress with a bounce. Her hand fell on the book again, bringing immediately to mind her second dilemma of action and consequence. Within the book lay the proof Damien had asked her to seek: the reasoning and consequences behind Vampires feeding on, or rather being inherently against feeding on, other Nightwalkers. Some of what she had read supported everything Damien had suspected and concurred with everything he wanted to hear. It would bind him all the tighter to the Lycanthrope, if such a thing were possible.