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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"I will need to recall my entourage shortly. We will have encapsulated privacy in our suite, of course, but the household will be much different in dynamic than you have seen it to be once they all return."
"Six, besides us. Two household servants, two guards, Jasmine, who is to me what you are to Siena, and Stephan, who loosely serves as my Commander in times of war. Mostly he is a friend. Of course, Horatio, who is Jasmine's brother, by the way, and Kelsey are always welcome when their diplomatic duties release them from the foreign courts. These are my most trusted friends. My family, if you will. We have traveled centuries together."
"Well, I suppose we will not be making love in the kitchen again anytime soon." She chuckled.
"I am certain they couldn't care less if we do." Damien laughed in return. "Come to think of it, you may find things a tad too liberal for your tastes. You are rather conservative, for a Lycanthrope."
"Then there will have to be adjustments on both our parts, I imagine. We will find a way to make this work. So long as I can be accepted, the rest is minor details."
"Agreed." Damien was silent for a long moment. "As for acceptance, I believe those who are loyal to me will find their way. Those who oppose me just for the sake of argument will kick up a fuss, but it will die down. It is those who resent my power or covet it who concern me. I am not comfortable with the idea of you mending from broken bones on a regular basis."
"It will be less likely as I learn what to expect, who to trust, and how to sense the tricks your people use for deception. In my studies I have learned that any advantage can be circumvented with learning, time, and skill."
"Am I to hope you do not get killed in the meantime?" Damien queried, a bit more harshly than he had intended.
"Now who is it who has not considered the results of his actions before making his choice?" she asked, sitting up and looking down at him. "Are you regretting me already?"
"I am regretting my position, Syreena, nothing more," he assured her. "I have held this mantle for a very long time, and as a dominant male with no family or dependents to consider, it was a much easier choice to take the risks involved. And no," he interrupted when he saw the cloud that crossed her features, "I do not consider you dependent, nor do I regret my choices. I am merely considering the changes in my path as it lies before me. I once walked it alone. It makes sense to move aside slightly to share it with you by my side from this point on. By doing so, my view changes or I walk a different edge, but I would much rather have the company. One can go mad with none but themselves for company on such a very long road, Syreena."
That was a concept Syreena understood. However, she also realized he was trying to tell her something else with the metaphor.
"You are considering abdication, aren't you?" she asked bluntly.
Damien was silent as he toyed absently with her hair and his inner thoughts.
"Damien, your people have thrived under your rule. You are used to being a leader. Can you honestly live in a society where you will have little to no say in how it evolves? You have known nothing else for over six hundred years. You were the youngest Vampire ever to attain a throne. You are the longest surviving monarch in all Vampiric history. You have also managed to keep peace not only within your people, but with most of the Nightwalkers as well."
"With a few arrogant exceptions," he corrected with a chuckle.
"It seems Noah has forgiven your war with his people, and I think everyone gets into scuffles with Shadowdwellers. They are impossible to understand."
"So were we all, once upon a time," he reminded her. He looked deeply into her bicolored eyes for a very long time. "So you wish me to maintain my throne? I think you just enjoy being a Princess."
"I think I am used to being one. I think I know what it means to rule and," she gave him a wink, "co-rule a species."
"And if you come to rule with me, my love, what becomes of your sister's heiress?"
"She is the one who abdicates. Damien, Lycanthropes will never accept this. Siena thinks I have not realized that, but I do. They will not accept two foreign males married onto their soil and into the monarchy. One is the limit of their tolerance. This has been my home for fifteen years, but it will never mean to me what it does to Siena. I will not risk her throne with the potential for rebellion. If I marry into foreign soil, it can be used as…as a sort of propaganda. Marry off royal blood of one clan to the royal blood of another for the sake of never-ending peace. Something like that. So long as you do not have one foot on their throne, they will find it easy to celebrate our…to celebrate us."
"You can say it, you know," he told her softly, those ceaseless fingers roaming the length of her cheek slowly. "Our marriage. You may speak of it as a foregone conclusion, Syreena, because we both know that it is."
"Vampires do not marry," she reminded him.
"Vampires do not marry now," he corrected. "We did once. Our ceremonies are much like other Nightwalker ceremonies, actually. We have only grown too spoiled and whimsical in our selfishness to find it of much use or meaning. For me, I have found both use and meaning. In you, beloved."
"Beloved," she repeated softly. "You are my beloved, Damien. I have not told you that, but I feel it with all of my heart."
"I already know. I have felt your heart in our every kiss and touch. I would be foolish to mistake it."
"Mmm, I wish I had your confidence." She sighed, snuggling up to him tightly. "I do not mean about us. I have come to see the source you see when you see the inevitability in us. However, I have not been easy or forthcoming in my expression of my feelings. Yet you believe in them so absolutely. You seem to know them even before I do."
"It is only because in my lifetime I have learned how to divine truth from confusion. You will, too, one day, when you have lived so long." He hesitated a moment, then turned to kiss her forehead. "You did not say if you wished to wed me, Syreena."
To his discomfort, she laughed at him. Her humor was hard and rollicking, even to the point of kicking out her heels, and grasping her injured arm as the vibration of her giggles caused her pain.
"So much for Mr. Confidence." She snickered with delight. "What happened to 'you may speak of it as a foregone conclusion'?" As she quoted him, she mocked the depth of his voice and the common gestures in his airs. She was laughing so hard that she made him chuckle as she reached to dash tears from her brimming eyes.
"You are an ungrateful little brat," he admonished her.
"Because I dare to laugh at you, my Prince? Such are the things you will suffer if you think to marry a Princess who knows not to be so very impressed by title alone." She eased off her humor at his expense. "You make impressions and impacts in other ways, my love. I would not worry overmuch."
His reaction to her words was an instantaneous smile. He snuggled down with her again in immediate satisfaction.
"Say that again," he demanded in a whisper against her ear. "If you only knew the delight it gives me…"
"My love," she repeated softly, allowing herself the warmth of a blush. "My love. My lord, if you wish it. I would have no future if it did not include you, Damien. I knew that when I came to you. Probably long before I acknowledged it. I will always remember your surety, though. It will never leave me."
"Just as I have learned to appreciate your care of thought. You waited for certainty so you would not cause anyone more injury than you had to. I understand that now."
She raised her chin to his deeply affectionate kiss, smiling against his lips just before he parted from her.
"Is there anything further you wished to discuss?" she asked him. "Is there anything that troubles you still?"
"Actually, there are two further issues. We will need to mark these as our first joint decisions as rulers."
"It sounds serious."
"Only partly. First, I wish to find a way to repay Windsong and Lyric for all they have done for us both. Normally I would suggest a fashionable gathering, but it would not be something they would enjoy."
"So make it a friendly gathering. In a very large place, but only with those Nightwalkers they would feel safe and familiar around. Make it a very specific honor, and yet give them the opportunity to accept or decline without any fear of insult."
"Perhaps a wedding?" he suggested, seeing where she was headed immediately.
"Yes. Take the focus off them. They would be self-conscious if it was a gathering centered around them. So we shall center it around us. To be invited to the Vampire Prince's marriage will be an astounding honor to them."
"Perhaps with Noah as host, in his home. It is certainly large and familiar surroundings. It is an organized and safe environment which the Demon King has complete control of. It is an advantage which, I am afraid to say, my home will lack once news of this marriage gets about."
"With only our immediate family attending. And I do include Jasmine in that, of course."
"I know you do."
"And the second matter?" she prompted. "The more serious one, I take it. The first was rather benign."
"It is. The second matter is Ruth. She escaped from her infractions against you as she has escaped repeatedly over these many instances of pain and even death. She must be found and punished, if not stopped entirely. She only grows more powerful the longer she remains out there. I think it is time she was hunted in earnest, a joint effort, like the Nightwalker Library. It concerns us all and we all have a responsibility to it."
"I have long been in agreement with that. Each of us uses our own resources in the effort, but rarely do we consider joining them in a permanent effort to capture her once and for all. She is mad. You can see it in her eyes and feel it with every ounce of your being. Mad and evil are the worst of combinations."
"Add to it intelligence and great power and you have the reason why she has slipped through our fingers time and again."
"I believe she is the larger threat," Damien said as he paced slowly across the Great Room of the castle of the Demon King. "If we split amongst ourselves searching for her, and then split again our focus between her and the magic-users, we weaken ourselves and leave ourselves terribly vulnerable. I think this is why we have been failing to stop her all of this time. She has crossed over, taking on dual cultures, and now has twice the access to power because of it. We too must combine cultures."
Damien paused to look at the circle of Nightwalker leaders sitting around him, listening intently as he voiced his opinion. The gathering was unprecedented. Every known Nightwalker species in the world was represented, and it had only take twenty-four hours to gather them.
Then again, it had taken thousands of years.
There was Siena and Elijah, Queen and Consort of the Lycanthropes; Noah, King of all Demons; Hawk, a Mistral Bard, and Windsong the Mistral Siren, who were among the eldest and most respected of their kind; Isabella, the first of the Druids to emerge from dormancy; and, much to everyone's surprise, Malaya and Tristan, the two High Chancellors of the Shadowdwellers.
Though the Shadowdwellers were often extended overtures of peace and social invitation, Damien could not recall them ever responding before. They were the reason why the room was so dim, only the fire in the fireplace and a few selectively placed candles set about. Their sensitivity to light of any kind was well known. They were the most singular curiosity of all the visiting dignitaries. They were a striking, medium-skinned people, their features a breathtaking combination of Middle Eastern exotic and American Indian strength. Both of them had capes of straight black hair that gleamed like polished onyx and stunning eyes to match.
To Syreena, they had a level of sophistication in their air that she had not been expecting. The male moved with the same careless grace that Damien always did. He wore long, loose clothing over a surprisingly fit and tall body structure. She could tell he was lean and athletic for a purpose, that he had been specifically crafted for flexibility and speed of movement. She did not know how she knew, but she felt it with every instinct she owned.
The female also was built with long grace, like a prima ballerina whose figure was cut to accent the length of her legs, arms, and neck. She was adorned in the simple elegance of a black sari with black embroidery, in addition to a snug, midriff-baring shirt of a blue so dark it almost matched Damien's eyes. There were simple pieces of gold jewelry that included a thin ring around her pinkie, a superfine chain holding an onyx pendant around her neck, and a delicate piercing through her nose that led back to a matching clasp in her ear with a gentle sweep of an even thinner chain. The arc of that chain accented the lower curve of her highly defined cheek, and heavy lines of kohl enhanced the frames of both her eyes in such a way that they seemed to leap out with penetrating beauty.
They were nothing like Syreena had expected in both looks and manners. Perhaps this unexpected aura of culture and class was what allowed them to position themselves for the mischief they were reputable for, but she could not imagine how anyone could have all of the appearance of something, and none of the actuality. That was probably naive of her, she thought as she looked back to the man who was going to be counting on her wisdom in the coming future. She could not afford the luxury of such naivete.
"We too must combine cultures," Damien repeated softly as he thought out loud before them. "Not just one or two, but all of them. Every Nightwalker here is now in danger from Ruth's plotting, I am convinced of it. She has attacked Demon, Druid, and Lycanthrope already and now has been seen in Mistral territory."