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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“As I recall, I was your prisoner at the time,” he reminded the Lycanthrope Queen. Gideon mentally hushed Legna when she snickered over the idea of the feminine Queen getting the better of him.
“Ah, yes, you are correct. I had almost forgotten. But we did not part on bad terms those many decades back, so I trust you are not intent on exacting some sort of vengeance.”
“No, Highness. You treated me quite well for a person of such dubious status. I am, in fact, ever grateful for the generous hospitality you showed me.”
The statement managed to hush Legna’s laughter more effectively than any of Gideon’s warnings had. He was suddenly very aware of her renewed and highly hostile focus on the Lycanthrope female.
“So tell me, Gideon, is it my hospitality you seek tonight?”
There was no mistaking the suggestion in her voice and the sly lift of both a golden brow and one corner of her full lips. The Queen stood up once more, slower this time, allowing her tall body to expose its remarkable charms gradually. She was garbed in a simple golden bra, the brief article of clothing accenting an exquisite and full pair of breasts. She wore a thick golden chain that linked around her slim hips, holding a couple of thick veils over the front and back of her long legs. A thinner chain circumscribed her trim waist, the glittering gold drawing attention to the muscular fitness of defined abdominal muscles and the deep inward curves of her sides. The only other thing she wore was the collar of her office, the gold and moonstone choker a one-of-a-kind creation that marked her for who she was to any Nightwalker who saw it, Lycanthrope or otherwise.
She moved to the top step leading from the throne itself, looking down to Gideon as she slowly began to descend. Every motion of her body was a purposeful dance in sensuality. Gold shifted and twinkled flirtatiously, gossamer veiling fluttering with the breeze of her movement. Lycanthropes tended to be highly sexual beings, even more so than Demons, and it radiated from every living cell of the Queen’s advancing body. These Nightwalkers were not merely genetic carriers of animal instincts from long ago; they were pure animalism, living a third of their lifetime as little more than an intelligent beast. That fact eddied from the beautiful Queen like raw pulsations of nature.
Gideon was aware of a soft, antagonistic hostility nibbling at the edges of his thoughts and realized the source was Legna, who, for all her control and detachment, was apparently just as susceptible to simple jealousy as anyone else. The Queen halted her approach about three steps away from him, her posture held with proud perfection as she once more took his measure.
Sweet Destiny, you would think a Queen could afford the entire dress, Legna remarked dryly.
Gideon realized he was trapped between potentially unpleasant circumstances. It would be difficult to tender goodwill to the Queen while maintaining peace with this different emotion for Legna. His goal, in the end, was not to upset either of them, and at the moment it seemed very unlikely that he could manage that. It was enough to ruffle even his practiced calm as a soft sheen of moisture appeared on his forehead.
“You come armed to my home. Why is that?”
“Would you do any less when walking into the den of those who have held you in threat in the past?” Gideon countered. “If invited to Noah’s court, would you relinquish the weapons you have, even now, concealed in your hair?”
“You were always the shrewd one.” She laughed, her smiles and humor lessening the tension in the room considerably. She came closer to the Demon, her motions more businesslike as she did so. She walked on, and he fell into step beside her. She led him farther back into the cavern, a slow, strolling tour of rooms he had lived amongst once, quite some time ago.
So long as her bedroom was not one of those rooms, Legna warned, her jealousy a fiercely tangible thing.
No, Neliss. I can assure you it was not.
And I am to take your word on that?
I would prefer if you did. However…
“I see you have not yet settled on a mate,” Gideon said to Siena.
“And I see that you have, despite all your proclamations that you never would. I can smell her all over you. She must be… delicious.” Siena’s phraseology was provocative, making Gideon smile inwardly with the imagery it churned up.
I shall have to fully test that theory, he mused.
There was no response, but he knew Legna was too flustered by her mixed emotions of the moment to formulate one.
“I recommend it,” he offered amiably. “Especially in your situation. It is far more satisfying than maintaining the status of a virgin Queen, Siena.”
“Yes,” Siena said, a crooked smile spreading over her lush mouth. “As delightful as that sounds, I can easily forgo the cravings of the body if it keeps me from being forced to mate with some male I will end up chained to for the rest of my life.” It was clear by the contempt in her voice that, for all her natural sexuality, she’d rather roast on a hunter’s spit. “It is quite unfair,” she remarked, “that I should be plagued by this outdated, obnoxious genetic predisposition to chose one and only one mate for the entire span of my existence.” She sighed with lascivious drama. “Imagine the fun I could be having.” She became serious instantly, speaking to Gideon as the confidant he had been for her so many years ago. “I have no need for a King, and therefore, no desire to take a lover who would become one. So, a virgin I will remain, very likely to the end of my days.”
“Those words almost have a familiar ring to them,” he mused.
“Yes, I know. And now you have a mate.” She cocked her head, taking a deep breath as she drew in his scent with obvious curiosity. “You are lucky, Gideon,” she said with honest surprise and pleasure for him. “You have Imprinted on your mate and she on you. A rare phenomenon for your people, as I understand it. I wish you joy of it.”
“Thank you,” he responded graciously.
“But perhaps if you bedded the wench, she wouldn’t be so jealous of me.”
Gideon could not help the release of a groan as he was caught between Siena’s wink of mischief and Legna’s outraged exclamation in his head.
“Siena, I did not come here to get myself a dubiously cozy bed in the proverbial doghouse. So, if you would please have mercy?”
“As you wish. Tell me why you have come,” she said as they entered a room filled with enormous fountains of gold.
Surrounding these fountains was a bath occupied with Lycanthropes of all shapes, breeds, and sexes. All these creatures were in various states of furring, feathering, and undress as they bathed in water that spread the length and width of a football field before the two of them. Gideon wisely kept his eyes averted, not wishing to inadvertently condemn an innocently bathing female to the wrath of a jealous Demon, should he set eyes on her nude body by accident.
“Have you any reason to suspect there may be a faction of your people who have taken it into their heads to resurrect the war by attacking my people?” he asked the Queen.
Siena turned to look at him, the coined gold of her eyes brightening as she speculated a moment.
“I am glad you do not think I had anything to do with this.”
“No, Siena. Though there are still many on the Council who fear your intentions, the years I spent with you during my incarceration have had an effect on both of our perspectives about each other’s species.” Gideon smiled because he recalled that that had been Noah’s intention all along. Gideon had endeared himself with his grace and his deep wisdom to a young girl who would one day become Queen. “With the exception of testing my prowess with throne-room pranks, you are above picking petty fights. I know we have done nothing to provoke you to do anything as strong as what has happened.”
“Well, if there are rebels among my people, I usually find them quick enough. Explain what happened.”
Gideon did with efficiency and a minimum of detail. The Lycanthrope Queen listened intently.
“No. Gideon, my people may pick fights with yours, but to organize an act of such specificity and cruelty? The survival of our young is the highest priority in our moral code, and because it is high in our esteem, we consider it monstrous to do anything that resembles an attack on the young of even our worst enemies.”
“I sensed you would say as much, but you understand it was important that I make absolutely certain. For all we were aware, you may have had a social criminal on the loose that we simply had not heard about.”
“You are correct, of course. It is strategically unwise to leave avenues of possibility unexplored. If I have learned one thing about you and, I believe, your people, it’s that you are not foolish in matters of strategy.” She paused for a slow beat. “Gideon, I believe it is time for Noah and me to sit down together. At the very least, we should arrange the parameters for an exchange in ambassadors. With such positions set up and exchanged, there will be less opportunity for these gaps in information. The only thing that will come from not communicating with one another is mistrust and mistake. Before you know it, we will be returning to war for reasons we won’t even be clear on.”
“Do you think your people are ready to accept a Demon in your court?”
“I believe enough time has passed. I would request you for the position, except I know your Council duties and your new mate will be keeping you quite occupied. Perhaps you can suggest someone in your stead?”
“I am certain I can. As for your half of the exchange, be certain to choose someone very smart, very eager, and very unprejudiced toward our society as your ambassador. It will take an open mind to open the closed ones in the Demon court. Meanwhile, I will courier your request for a meeting to Noah. I will send you word of his response myself.”
“I will be awaiting you. In the meantime, I can search through my intelligences to see if there is something that I may have overlooked.”
Siena turned to face him, slipping a ring off her finger and handing it to him. She knowingly managed the exchange without touching him.
“This will allow you to come and go in my court in your honest form without fear of being accosted. That is, until we designate the ambassador who will wear it after you. There is no further need for tricks of camouflage. I prefer to know the true nature of that which approaches me. You might remember that for the future.”
“I never doubted your abilities to find me out, Siena. That is why I shed the glamour as soon as possible. I thank you for your information, and for this.” He closed the ring in a secure fist. He bowed to her with an elegant flair that made the Lycanthrope Queen smile.
A moment later, he was yanked away, disappearing with a definitive pop, as if being rescued from the jaws of death. The jealous motivation behind Gideon’s removal sent the Queen into gales of laughter, forcing her to take a seat when she developed a stitch in her side. The possessive actions of Gideon’s mate tickled her with their obvious lack of reasonable logic. If the unseen woman had only thought about it a moment, she would have known it was an utter impossibility and she need not have been so insecure. After all, there was no way Siena would ever allow herself to be attracted to a male, least of all a Demon male.
Gideon turned to look for Legna the moment he materialized inside the manse. She was not in the immediate area of the parlor, and he moved into the hallway to search for her. Instinct told him to head up the marble staircase, and he did so, taking three steps at a time. He headed straight for his bedroom, moving into the open doorway and spotting her at last.
She had chosen the comfort and quiet of the window seat beneath the largest of all the stained glass windows. She sat with her legs curled beneath her and her shawl draping carelessly off one shoulder. The moonlit colors of the window flashed over her bared skin. A large tree just outside the glass swayed wildly in the wind. The moving branches played tricks with the moonlight outside, sending the color into an illusion of movement that looked like little tinted fairies dancing over her skin.
Legna turned her head to look at him and directly moved to her feet. Her shawl dropped away completely, clearly the last thing she felt needed her attention. She hurried over to him, plainly lighting up with the satisfaction that she would have her arms around him in barely a moment. The sound of silk and beads disrupted the momentary silence of the room, the creak and rush of the tempestuous wind outside almost drowning the simple sounds of her approach.
She was eager elegance as she threw her arms around his neck and allowed herself to be dragged up into his embrace. For an endless minute, her body clung to his at any and every contact point they could collaboratively manage. Gideon buried his face into the sweet curve of her neck, breathing deeply of her warm, living scent as he tried not to hug the breath out of her.
To his consternation, she only allowed him to hold her for a moment before she pushed back and squirmed out of his grasp. She reached for his left hand, using both of her hands to pry his fingers open even though he put up no resistance. The gold and moonstone ring resting in his palm was plucked from its place and tossed carelessly across the highly polished wooden floor, the sound of the bauble skidding far into the darkness seeming to satisfy her.
“You will wear nothing of hers,” Legna told him, her tone brooking no argument.
The dictate amused him. He had no intention of wearing the ring. It was for whomever Noah chose as an ambassador for Siena’s court, and that most certainly was not going to be him.
“Jealous, Neliss?” he teased her as he ringed a hand around her neck and pulled her closer once more. “It is not like you to indulge in such petty emotions.”
Legna frowned at him, tensing against his efforts to draw her nearer to him.
“You think my feelings to be petty?” she demanded of him. “Is it just my jealousy you see that way, or all my feelings?”