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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
He was racing the clock, and he knew it. He had wasted the past nine years and cursed himself for the fool he had been. Be it the ill memories to come, or be it Beltane, he needed to coax her to him first. He understood the odds were against him, and that encouraging her to stretch her strength and abilities as he had today could cost him dearly, making her develop in power more quickly than she would have otherwise. However, as he had explained to her, the curing of his patients always came first… even over the well-being of his own heart and soul. He had done what he’d had to in order to save Isabella and her child. It was not possible for him to do otherwise.
Gideon stood up, moving back a step from his sleeping guest. She immediately turned onto her side, facing him, her arm reaching across the bedspread in an attempt to reach him. An enormous ache of emptiness tightened in his chest, the compulsion to return to her side brutally overwhelming.
He turned and walked out of the bedroom, unable to help feeling as though he had just left a part of himself behind.
Legna’s eyes opened slowly, blinking in the face of fading daylight.
She felt disoriented and confused. The room was full of extraordinary colors, all of them splashing across structures and furniture that were familiar and alien all at once. She took in a careful breath, almost as if she wasn’t sure she would be able to breathe in this strange environment.
The scent that slowly threaded its way around her and invaded her senses was also familiar, as well as extraordinarily stimulating. She released a soft sound of curiosity and captivation. Legna stretched out slowly, the movement rippling through her like a sensual awakening. The simple movement made her instantly aware of the warmth of a body beside her, the body that owned that distinctive and delicious scent.
She turned to him, so close already that when she made the simple movement it brought her into snug contact with him along his side. The breath that she had so carefully achieved a moment ago left her in a rush of haste and amazement as she rose up on an elbow and took in the remarkable sight of Gideon beside her in bed. He was asleep on his back, bare-chested and in a relaxed repose of crossed ankles and a hand beneath his head. His other hand lay on his stomach, rising and falling with each deep breath he took. He wore silk pajama pants of a beautiful sky blue, the drawstring of which was draping off the edge of his left hip.
In that moment, Legna realized just how incredibly and beautifully male the Demon beside her was. Because he was always clothed and refined whenever she saw him, she had never truly appreciated the development of the physique he had been concealing beneath expensive silk and embroidery as well as movements of elegance and tightly wrapped control. Even that morning in her bedroom when she had touched him so boldly, she had not reconciled her touch to what she was now seeing with her eyes.
To begin with, he had unbelievably wide shoulders. As a Demon female of great height and sturdy build, she rarely felt dwarfed or shadowed by a male, but Gideon had always managed to do so. Now she could see how his arms were much larger around at the biceps than the span of both her hands. He also had a chest and stomach of artfully sculpted definition, without a single sign of a silver hair to mar the plane of it. His trim waist came to the enticing V that she had always enjoyed on a male, and though the pants he wore were somewhat loose, there was no mistaking the distinct power of his thighs or the strength in his calves.
She had known Gideon her entire life, yet she was realizing that she was seeing him with perfect clarity for perhaps the very first time. There was no childhood intimidation now, nor was there wounded feminine ego to stand in her way.
She was simply a woman, looking at a man, who was anything but simple.
His hair was longer than she had realized. He usually kept it in a tightly bound tail, as was the popular style among the males of her race. But now it was loose, streaming like a waterfall of pure shaved silver over his pillow. His brows were silver, his lashes purely black. His jaw was shadowed darkly with the beard that had grown in as he slept. Upon close inspection she realized it would be streaked both silver and black if he had let it continue to grow. For some reason, it made her smile.
It was strange, but he looked both younger and older as he slept. Younger because he was truly relaxed, having shed the rigidity of the flawless control he held over his poise and body during waking hours. Older because, somehow, seeing him strictly as a male only added to his presence and power in her mind. If she were not so fascinated she might have been a little intimidated.
Legna reached out impulsively to touch his hair. It was unexpectedly soft and smooth, nowhere near the brittle feel of metal it tricked her into expecting. It was clinging to her fingers as if caressing them on purpose, the eerie sensation giving her a shiver as she double-checked his state of sleep. Once she was satisfied she was getting away with her trespassing undetected, she grew bolder, leaning farther forward over him, her breasts pressing against the hard musculature of his arm as she did so. She touched his face so lightly she could barely feel him. Curiously, she followed the arches and curves of it, from wide forehead and aristocratic cheekbones to his strong, slightly cleft chin and the perfectly sculpted lines of his mouth.
Braver still, she traced her butterfly touch down the firm column of his throat, marveling at its complete antithesis to the slim shape of her own and how strange it was that she found that to be a sexy thing. She had not realized a man’s neck could look so appealing.
She licked her lips slowly, her eyes riveted to the movement of her fingers, breaking her attention away only briefly now and then to check his breathing or his closed eyes to monitor the maintenance of his sleeping state. She touched the broad curvature of his collarbone, tracing it with single-minded fascination. She moved her exploration to his chest, noting the marks she had left on him had healed naturally, only the ghosted presence of the impressions of her nails remaining. It pleased her to realize he had not used his skills to heal them, and then it disappointed her that their bodies healed so damn quickly. She pressed her lips together to prevent a giggle from escaping her. It was a silly, clearly territorial thought, but she made no excuses to herself for it.
Her fingertips next drifted over his belly, softly weaving around his fingers, enjoying the increasing warmth of his skin as she traveled. She paused, her eyes scouting ahead of her touch, and nibbled on her lower lip as she considered whether or not to continue her secret tour of him.
Her question was answered when she suddenly felt his hand wrap around her fingers. She gasped, jerking back instinctively, her face flaring with heat while her neck prickled with chills. Nevertheless, he held tight, preventing her withdrawal, pressing her hand to his stomach beneath his own. She looked up into his eyes, vexed by the humor ghosting through them.
“How did you do that?” she demanded. Eyes and breathing aside, it was impossible to fake sleep with a Mind Demon. She should have picked up on the rise of his awareness as he awoke.
“You continually attempt to fit me into the molds of the men you are acquainted with,” he said softly. “I am extremely different than anything you know, Magdelegna. It would help if you expected what you would least expect, and go from there.”
“Gee, you are so wise,” she said in a high, cooing voice, blinking her lashes with ridiculous speed. “I am so tremendously lucky! Most girls get stuck with an insufferable, devious, underhanded snake of a man.”
The humor of her act drew a smile to one side of his mouth, and Legna couldn’t ignore the way it turned her insides around when the smile glowed warmly in his eyes.
“You will never bore me, Nelissuna. I can see that fact straight to my soul.”
“But I can clearly see you being easily capable of boring me to tears,” she countered archly, trying to free her trapped hand with a determined tug. He was even stronger than he looked, she thought.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, noticing her struggle and insults about the same way he would notice a passing speck of dust.
“Why can you not tell me? You are the medic, are you not?” She exhaled sharply. “Will you please let go of me?”
Legna growled in frustration at him.
“You are so obnoxious!” she accused. “I hate it when you do that!”
“Do what? Answer a question? If it disturbs you, I will ignore your questions from now on.”
“You know exactly what I mean. I hate it when you lay down the word no as if it were the last letter of the law. And do not think I do not know that you are doing it on purpose just to irritate me, because I do!”
“Then you should cease giving me the opportunity to say it,” he told her, his tone so matter-of-fact that she almost screamed at him. “And you should be careful of those little growls you insist on making, Neliss. They are… very stimulating.”
Suddenly Legna forgot all about trading barbs with him and became very aware of his warmth above and below her trapped hand, the solid strength she leaned up against so cozily, and the very clear hunger that was brewing under the humor he had been using to hide it.
Now that he had her full attention rather than her acerbic defenses, he slipped his hand out from under his head and reached to touch her soft, warm cheek with fingertips as light as the ones she had explored him with.
“You are so very lovely, Legna. I have always thought so. Even as a child, you were quite stunning.”
“It took you long enough to tell me so,” she said, but there was no true energy to the would-be sarcastic remark.
“Yes. I know. But I always felt it would be inappropriate. Noah is… I was his Siddah. I began fostering him from the time he was ten years, his abilities proving to be too powerful to wait until he was at the usual age. He was like a son to me… more so after your parents were gone. Noah treated you more like a daughter than a sister as he raised you in turn. It always felt like a barrier I ought not to cross. Even now, I do not welcome the time when he discovers what is happening between us. I can see you have the same concern.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “But in time… ”
“Yes. Time. I am finding myself in great competition with time of late.”
“He will resist at first, but if he thinks you will make me happy, he will eventually come around,” Legna assured him.
“So then”—he picked up her hand from his stomach, lifting the palm to the kiss of his lips—“all that remains is for me to convince you that I will make you happy, so that you are able to convince him of it.”
“A daunting task, to be sure,” she murmured, looking at her arm to see if there were any visible signs of the sensation the touch of his mouth was causing to rush up the length of it. She blinked twice and shook her head slightly to clear it of the dangerous predatory sensation stirring within her thoughts. “I have not asked about Bella,” she said, discreetly trying to clear the catch that had entered her voice. “Is all well?”
“Yes. Both she and the baby will survive and, eventually, regain their health.”
“Thank goodness,” she sighed. “If I ever complain about the changes going on inside me, remind me of how they saved my friend’s life.” She hesitated to catch her breath as his mouth brushed back across her sensitive palm.
“Legna, why are you so afraid of me at the moment?”
She met those penetrating eyes of his, feeling as if they were searching her very soul. It made her breathless and nervous.
“I am afraid of how easily you seem to… cause strong emotions within me with such a simple touch.”
“And if I told you that you have the same power over me?” he asked, his rich voice hypnotically gentle.
Legna knew in an instant what that knowledge made her feel. She felt that baser side of herself stirring into awareness, threatening to overcome her as it had in her room so recently, in the garden nine years ago, and in battle with the necromancer last October.
She sat up away from him and this time he let her go, releasing her hand with a lingering touch.
“I should go home. Noah must be worried.”
She turned and slid out of the bed on the other side, but by the time she was upright on her feet, he was in front of her, leaning a shoulder casually against one of the bedposts.
“Run, run, as fast as you can… ” he said softly, his meaning all too serious and all too clear.
“Gideon, please,” she begged quietly, unable to meet his direct gaze as her heart pounded out a frantic rhythm.
“I see what you are running from, Magdelegna. But you will not succeed. The huntress is a part of you. Back before time was time, our people lived in prides just like the lions do. And like lionesses, your ancestral females were born to the hunt, built sleek and beautiful and deadly in the most magnificent ways. It is deeply embedded in your genetic code, in spite of all of our evolution and civilization, and is as much a part of you as your empathy. I am sorry, but this code, Neliss, is the one thing you can never escape.”
“But it is worse when you are near me. Tell me that is not true.”
“It is very true. But instead of thinking of it as worse, I would hope you would think of it as natural. It is, you know. It is natural that your baser nature appears when your mate does.”
“You are not even my mate yet. What happens if… if we have sex?” She wrapped her arms tightly around herself to ward off a chill. “Will it become wor—more frequent? Stronger? It overtakes me so easily, Gideon.”
“I understand how unnerving that can be, Legna. It haunts me as well whenever I come close to you. Even if I cross a path you have recently trod, your lingering scent stimulates the dominant in me, the part of me that urgently needs to be with you. Near you. Wrapped around you, with you… with you wrapped around me.”