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  • Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Shadowdwellers > Ecstasy (Page 4)     
    Ecstasy(Shadowdwellers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank
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    “Trust me,” she demanded of him as all of her weight came to lie against him. “This will help.”

    Trace couldn’t even conceive of how to argue with her about that. Old instincts cursed him for ever turning his back on a woman, even if he was about to die. But older instincts than that were shifting the focus of his attention, helping to curb the lance of pain constantly running through him. As if he had his father’s perceptions and could sense the truth on a higher level, Trace knew that she believed what she was doing could actually help. Ashla was as gentle now as she had been seemingly cruel a moment ago, and the softness of her caressing touch left him off balance and raw with vacillating focuses.

    Wraith or not, she had an intriguing little body tucked into that dress, he realized as she slowly began to reach and glide over him; moving like liquid poured over a polished path, she simply flowed. She stroked, she touched. She found every bit of exposed skin she could and painted it with her special brand of delicate attention. All the while she laid herself along his body, warming him in more ways than one.

    Trace was left with the inane thought that while he’d never been overly fond of the scent of flowers, he might be persuaded to think otherwise in the future…provided he even had a future after this.

    The Lost woman continued running her hands all along his bare skin and Trace was struck by how very much it was like a seduction. Her eyes slid closed now and again, her expression one of deep concentration, while at the same time it seemed as though she were experiencing a focused pleasure. It radiated into all her increasingly delicious movements, but it was most reflected in the soft, unthinking sounds she made. She moved in slight rocking motions as she reached to touch his arms, hands, and the tips of his fingers where they lay passively at his sides. Then she reversed her direction, her slightly sticky fingers climbing up Trace’s throat and head until they were in his hair. Simultaneously, she sprawled out over him, her full weight, such as it was, resting on him as her legs slid down along the length of his.

    “It’s all right,” she whispered as her lips trailed down his jawline until her cheek was stroking against his.

    Trace’s confusion and any last remaining instincts to rebel faded. He lifted a hand to the back of her small head, the silky-soft texture of her feathery hair sliding under his fingertips.

    “You know,” he said hoarsely, “there are easier ways to get a date.” But even as he made the facetious remark, Trace felt his entire body shift in sensation. It took him a moment to comprehend that what he was feeling was an actual rush of relief. As the pain bled from him in earnest, he took hold of Ashla by the back of her head and neck and pulled her back until he could see her eyes again. She looked flushed and uncomfortable now, her body stiff all of a sudden as she refused to look directly at him.

    “What are you?” he asked on a whisper as he studied her carefully for Nightwalker attributes.

    The Nightwalkers were the supernatural races, the night races, those who held the sun in dread and thrived in the darkness and moonlight. His race, the Shadowdwellers, was the epitome of that description. All of the Nightwalker breeds were the caretakers of strange and wondrous powers, rather like the power to heal with a touch.

    She was no ’Dweller, of that he was certain. Not with that fair coloring and tiny body structure. She was also far too pale to be a Demon, a race that ran to tan themselves. And Vampires, while pale, were not able to heal anyone but themselves…unless a bite was involved. He eliminated Mistrals and Lycanthropes for similar reasons. Besides, only two creatures on Earth that he knew of could enter Shadowscape.

    Shadowdwellers and humans.

    Specifically, comatose humans.

    Shadowscape was a lightless dimension just a step out of phase with Realscape. It was only a step, but it was enough to make the entire ’scape completely absent of the world’s population to the perception of anyone there. With concentration, a powerful Shadowdweller like Trace could Fade into the dark of Shadowscape, and Unfade to return to Realscape at will. For ’Dwellers, Shadowscape was the ultimate world away from the painful sear of light that rampantly littered a human-dominated world. The human need for illumination, coupled with the natural course of the sun, had made most of the planet completely unlivable, and often suicidal, for Trace’s people. As it was, they spent most of their lives chasing the darkness to places like Alaska and New Zealand, the Arctic and the Antarctic lands where night would fall seasonally without end for months at a time.

    Humans were the second occupants of Shadowscape; what Trace’s people referred to as the Lost. Trace looked into Ashla’s eyes, surprised at the depths of light and emotion within the sky blue pools. Previously, his experiences with the Lost had been chillingly flat. They weren’t supposed to be able to see the ’Dwellers—or each other, for that matter—so they never seemed to react to anything around them. To look into their faces was to look into a vacant place, an expression of haunted bewilderment as they tried to solve the puzzle of where they were, how they had gotten there, and how they could possibly get back to the life they had known before. They didn’t realize that somewhere in Realscape their bodies had become blanks, empty of soul and consciousness, some illness or trauma having stolen away the tether that tied the Lost part of the person to their now blank body.

    The Lost were merely spirits, mental manifestations of the wandering soul. In essence, they were wraiths, images projected by the Lost’s own memory of themselves. They had no warmth. No scent. No awareness of the Shadowdwellers and the truths of the dimensional landscape they were now trapped in.

    But this one did, he thought as he stared at her.

    And this one healed with her touch.

    Could humans really do such things? Trace’s society existed on the same planet as humans, but their interactions were minimal due to the issues of light and its harmful nature. Shadowdwellers, like most Nightwalkers, had no real contact with the dominant species on the planet. They weren’t completely ignorant of them, of course. They couldn’t afford to be. Humans could be quite deadly as they went about their daily lives, routines, negotiations, bickerings, and wars. Trace was as highly aware of human nature and its capability as anyone because of his position in the Shadowdweller government.

    As far as he knew, the ability this woman had just shown was a significant abnormality. Just like everything else about her so far, he realized. Was her unusual talent the explanation to all of the anomalies she represented, all the rules of Shadowscape that she was able to break? Even supposing it was possible for a human woman to heal with her bare hands in the real world, how could that ever be taken across the veil and into Shadowscape, where humans were a manifestation of spirit more than body?

    Trace had not meant any insult by his last question to her. He had genuinely wanted to know what she was—what genus, breed, or species of Nightwalker, to be specific, because to his mind no human could possibly have the power she had wielded.

    Just the same, his query visibly took her aback, as if he had landed a smarting slap across her face. There was no mistaking the rush of hurt and horror that flew over her features and now-rigid body. Ashla ripped herself out of Trace’s grasp violently, tumbling and stumbling across the floor away from him. Glass crunched and skidded beneath her, making Trace acutely aware of her bare feet, hands, and limbs as she scrambled over the minefield of shards. Trace tried to haul himself up, wanting to stop her, but she was fueled by internal demons he couldn’t possibly have understood, and he was still severely weakened by blood loss.

    But he was also the man who had defeated an enemy above his own class in weight and strength with a mortal wound in his back all the while they had fought. He wasn’t known for accepting weaknesses in himself or others.

    In that respect, it baffled him why it was so damn important to him to chase after such a touchy, temperamental creature. But chase her was exactly what he did, after a fashion. It was hardly a chase when it took him so long to get to his feet and then to the door she had bolted through. By the time he managed it, the street was empty in all visible directions, and there wasn’t a single hint of sound to help direct him after her.

    Trace growled under his breath in annoyance.

    It was turning out to be a bitch of a day for him.

    What are you?

    The phrase rang in her ears with the same knell of a half dozen similar experiences, all with that nasty question ringing through them. It had always been meant to tear away at her, to cut her off at the knees and worse, so it was not possible for Ashla to perceive the possibility that it might be meant some other way.

    Satan’s daughter.

    Witch.

    No matter how many times she had sworn her abilities were a gift from God, there was always that nasty voice, usually the voice of her mother, whispering insidious accusations in her ear about how evil she was. Sometimes that whispering mutated into screams, shrill and touched with feverish fanaticism.

    She’s a witch, cursed by God and mistress to the devil!

    All this and more whirled as abusive echoes within her head, propelling her to put as much distance as she could between herself and the man who condemned her. It wasn’t until she was beating a hasty retreat down the asphalt that Ashla realized that as lost as she was in this shell so much like her native New York, its lack of people had allowed her, for the first time, to walk around in peace and not feeling like she had a secret she had to hide from everyone. It had been the first time in all of her life where she had not felt like she was lying to everyone around her, hiding her true nature from them out of fear of what they would think or do to her.

    All this time she had been griping about being alone, when she had actually been at peace.

    Trace was advisor to one of the most powerful and influential people in his world, and he prided himself on his ability to see all angles and sense the thoughts and moods of others. He could anticipate almost any hidden problem that most linear minds could not expect, especially when it was critical that he do so for the good of his entire race. Injured and weak as he was, his perceptions had failed him and he couldn’t rectify the mistake quickly enough.

    His Good Samaritan was out of his reach in a heartbeat, and now there was nothing he could do to retrieve her or even thank her. He was bewildered as he surveyed the trashed boutique behind him, trying to understand what had happened and, admittedly, taking a few needed minutes to recuperate some strength and balance.

    The store he stood by would end up completely destroyed in Realscape as well. There would be some parallel reason for it, either a crime or an accident, something that would create the exact damage and debris, but it would happen.

    Usually. On rare occasions there were no apparent reasons for why things moved around or banged and rattled a little. It was the stuff ghost stories were born of, and he supposed that, in truth, it was a kind of ghost that caused them. It was either the wraith humans or a Shadowdweller in Fade. It was the law of Shadowscape and other parallel dimensions like it. What happened in one world had to happen in all the others. Anytime objects like buildings shared physical space in dimensions, it was simply the way it had to be. The reasons things happened would change from one realm to another, but the end result would always end up the same. If a tree fell in the woods of Shadowscape, it fell in every ’scape.

    He looked down at his stained body and torn clothing, one large hand sliding up his chest in a touch inspection of his injuries. He wasn’t perfectly healed. Far from it, in truth. But there was no longer any free-flowing blood. He was black and blue all under his skin in large areas, sore as hell, but he was very aware of the change he felt instinctively that told him he was no longer in mortal danger from his injuries. All ’Dwellers, most Nightwalkers for that matter, had the ability to heal rapidly, but he would never have been able to recover so swiftly on his own…if at all.

    “She saved your life, fool,” he acknowledged aloud with bitterness. How and even why were complete mysteries, but nevertheless…it irked him to understand that he had thanked her for it by hurting her somehow.

    Trace moved slowly, the deep resonance of his groan joining the other odd echoes that seemed to fill a world of things without the people those things were intended for. He walked out of the debris field and into the empty street. He paused just long enough to search the empty asphalt once more for a glimpse of blond hair, but she was, as expected, long gone.

    Trace turned his attention back toward the store and the partially prone body of the regency’s enemy. He trekked back to Baylor and reached down to snatch his band of office from around his arm. Trace snapped the bloodied bangle of platinum onto his own biceps, just below the ornate copper one he wore marking him as the royal vizier with its inlay of aquamarine stones. It was tradition to wear the trophy of a defeated enemy beneath the mark of one’s office, but in this case it would also serve as a visible warning to others who thought to betray the monarchy.

    And by the sound of Baylor’s rantings, there were more than a few looking to do just that. Trace needed to get to Xenia and Guin as soon as possible. As the Chancellors’ personal bodyguards, they needed to be made aware of the threat nesting so close to the throne. Baylor had been one of the Senate, one of a body of advisors and lawmakers constantly given access to the royals. It would be nothing at all for others like him to surround the monarchy in a single swoop and deal it a blow in the style of Julius Caesar before anyone even realized there was a threat. Even his knowledge of Baylor’s treachery was a matter of either pure luck on his part, or pure stupidity on the part of the conspirators.

    If they had aspired to include him in their deceitful plots, was it because they had just been critically misinformed, or had they dared and succeeded with others equally high up in trusted ranks? The thought chilled him to his core just as much as it angered him. He gritted his teeth against all pain and weakness and immediately forced himself into lurching progress along the streets of New York.

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