|Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Shadowdwellers > Pleasure (Page 3)|
|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
As she ignored his immediate rebuff and gently drew his seared hands toward her, she leaned over him until a waterfall of coppery red hair skimmed only an inch from his nose, bathing him in the warm scent of lilies and sunflowers and a dozen herbs of smaller note. Her hair was full of static, and the strands flew at his face, clinging to his unshaven cheeks like delicate burnished parasites that almost seemed to stroke and pet him. Sagan was still bound, but he didn’t think he would have brushed the colorful bits away even if he could.
“Oh God,” she exhaled in pure distress as she saw his hands up close. She turned her head to meet his eyes, bringing the brilliant Caribbean blue within inches of his face and allowing him to see the stunning striations of her irises that so artfully expressed her guilt…and her innocence. He was convinced, more than ever now, that she meant him no harm. “I have a first aid kit.”
She went to move, but he snared her wrist and kept her close, making her turn those remarkable eyes back on to him. Sagan found himself practically bespelled as she looked at him in question and concern. There was an absolutely fascinating type of power and lure in her gaze, and he wondered if she even realized it.
“It will heal,” he reiterated to her. “Trust me. Even now the pain is fading.”
Valera studied him a long moment before deciding to believe him. Her caution was understandable, but Sagan was very aware that she wasn’t as freaked out about how he had gotten burned as a human woman should be. Humans didn’t know of the Nightwalkers because the Dark Cultures worked quite hard to keep it that way. Bad enough those who thought they knew what they were went stumbling around with half-baked facts and myth and fiction to arm themselves as they tried to destroy those they deemed supernatural and evil. Nightwalkers like the Shadowdwellers dreaded what would happen if the higher human governments and sciences had ever learned of them. Outnumbered in population, if not necessarily in supernatural ability, their entire hidden culture could be systematically destroyed, ruined forever by human avarice and curiosity.
Valera picked up the knife she had brought and with slow care she worked it under the easiest accessible loop of the fortified rope. She hesitated and looked up into his redwood eyes, the unique blend of dark and light browns and just a touch of russet red ghosting through seeming full of depth and weight just then. Whatever he was thinking, his thoughts were grim and heavy. Thoughts of worry. It radiated all throughout his gaze as she tried to reconcile the wisdom of freeing this man who was so much bigger and stronger than she was, and who was clearly not an average human, if indeed he was human at all.
In her years of solitary life and study, she had learned much about the different echelons of her world. She was no longer vain and ignorant like others of her race, thinking they were the beginning and end of intelligent life on the planet as they knew it. She knew there were other species…other worlds, and even other dimensions living parallel to the one she knew. She didn’t know what he was exactly, but she knew he wasn’t merely human. No human would burn at the touch of an insignificant household lightbulb.
Sagan could see her hesitate as her fear stalked through her thoughts and ghosted over her features. He held her eyes with his own and very carefully told her, “My name is Sagan, and I won’t hurt you. I wouldn’t repay your assistance in such a way.”
She glanced away, almost as if ashamed of her own thoughts. “I know. I guess I am still a little rattled by those other two.” She began to saw at the ropes.
“Other two?” he echoed, his memory suddenly springing to life as he recalled two Shadowdweller males roughing him up. “The ones who brought me here? Did they harm you?”
The hard demand was a little startling, the anger under it oh so very clear. “No. Rather the…the other way around.”
She nodded to the side and he followed the indication to the two piles of ash dirtying up her floor. Sagan couldn’t help the smile that twitched at his lips. “Made them see the light, did you?”
His amusement made her give him a wry look as she continued to work at his ties. “It was completely unintentional,” she assured him. “I was very upset when…” She cleared her throat, pretending she wasn’t as disturbed as she was. “I’m not a killer.” She said it fiercely, the shine of unshed tears washing over her ocean-colored eyes until the turquoise refracted like beautifully cut gems.
Sagan believed her completely. His hands snapped free just then, unraveling the rope quickly as he shook them out. She went for his feet, but he stopped her, took the knife from her reluctant hands, and with a single swipe of the blade freed himself easily. Then he gently turned the knife around and handed it back to her. Like passing a peace pipe, the surrender of the potential weapon spoke volumes to her, and the priest saw it work its way through her in a visible path of relaxation.
She stood up first, her curvaceous body rising over him and unfolding in an adorable length of surprises. She was neither short nor tall, but somewhere in the average for a woman. Like the women of his people, though, she was sturdy and rounded in all the best places. He had always thought human women were too scrawny. Especially the supposed ideal that monopolized the covers of their magazines. But Valera…Valera was nothing like those emaciated images and everything an attractive young woman should be. She was full breasted, wide across her hips in a way that made a man’s hands itch to grab hold, and the lowest curve of her back was heavily pronounced by the outflaring of her generous backside. Between that body, the hair, the eyes, and the attractive aroma of a clean and feminine fragrance, Sagan shouldn’t have been surprised by the bolt of awareness that went charging through his body. Yet he was shockingly surprised all the same. After all, she was human…and there were rules.
Sagan lurched up onto his feet, stepping awkwardly away from her, his movements stiff and stumbling. He’d been bound for a very long time, he realized, and he was still nearly frozen to the bone. Although…
He glanced back at Valera cautiously, but the instantaneous flash of heat that hit him the moment he did reaffirmed the stunning realization that he was finding himself attracted to her. Of all people…When he had felt nothing, not even a glimmer of interest, for years as he had been surrounded by the women of his breed throughout his daily life. He was the epitome of a celibate priest, the laws of his religion dictating that no priest could have sexual congress with any woman other than his appointed handmaiden. When his previous handmaiden had been killed during the Shadowdweller civil war almost twenty years earlier, he had lost that outlet—and he had lost all interest in replacing her. In fact, it had become a bone of contention between himself and the other priests of his faith. For some reason it bothered them that he refused to take a handmaiden. His independence from the tradition was almost taken as an insult by many of them. Not that they’d push the point with him bluntly. He was one of the most powerful priests in Sanctuary, and no one wished to cross or confront him.
The key to his choice of solitude was that M’jan Magnus, the head priest of all Sanctuary, had never pressed the issue on him. As far as Sagan was concerned, if it didn’t bother his leader, then he didn’t care what anyone else thought.
Obviously it wasn’t that he didn’t like women, because he did, he acknowledged as he let his eyes ride over the female standing just a few feet away from him, but ever since Sariel’s death he had poured all of his energy into becoming a better hunter and fighter, and into becoming a better priest.
But not just anyone could become a handmaiden for Drenna and M’gnone, his gods, and not everyone was suited for a long lifetime in service to a single man and no other but the gods and Sanctuary itself. It took a very special kind of devotion and a deep inner power geared to the calling of Sanctuary.
None of which could ever be found in a mortal human female.
And though there were no direct laws against his species fraternizing with human beings, it was seriously frowned upon. So the attraction Sagan was feeling had to be dismissed with absolute finality and that was exactly what he did. Instead, he guided his interest and focus elsewhere.
“Where am I?”
“Alaska. Near the Elk’s Lake region.” Valera moved slowly away from him and replaced the knife in its proper setting. “Who are you?” she countered. “They said you were a priest, but…clearly you aren’t a Catholic priest.”
Sagan already knew it would be ridiculous to treat her as if she were stupid, but neither could he be forthcoming. He couldn’t put his people and the secret enclave at Elk’s Lake in danger. The large underground city was protected by the outer image of being no more than a research station. Until he knew what she knew, he couldn’t say anything of detail.
“No,” he replied honestly. “Not a Catholic priest. I practice and guide others in a religion far older than Christianity. Do you mean to say you live out here in the Alaskan wilderness all by yourself? This far from the nearest established city?”
“Yes. I do.” She moved back toward him, her steady, sharp eyes studying him as they played tit for tat with their questions. She was gauging him for his truthfulness, and Sagan hardly blamed her. It was obvious to both of them, however, that each was skirting the larger and unspoken issues. “Where have you come from?”
Ah. The tricky question. How to answer and yet remain honest?
“I live not too far from here, actually,” he replied vaguely. It was obvious from the sardonic lift of her brow that she noted the vagary of his answer. “Why is someone so young out here all by herself, isolated from the rest of humanity?”
“I have my reasons,” she retorted, the response almost snide as she lobbed back his evasiveness. “You should sit down. You need something to eat, some warm things, and rest. I’ll get some blankets. You can shower. You’ve blood on you. I’ll wash your clothes.”
Sagan jolted and looked at himself, noting the sleeve and tunic of his priest’s uniform was, indeed, soaked in blood from the cut he’d gotten.
But where had he gotten it? All he could remember was racing to the aid of Magnus’s handmaiden, Daenaira, and one of the students at Sanctuary. The Shadowdwellers’ religious house was also home to the education of all of their children who were entering adolescence. But for his life he couldn’t recall any of the details of the incident, other than running through the halls with K’yan Daenaira. Then he could remember being worked over by two Shadowdweller males before being bound.
Now there was Valera.
“I think I should like that,” he replied honestly. He reached up to touch his rough face, the growth telling him it had been three…maybe even four days since he’d last seen a razor. That told him approximately how distant from Elk’s Lake he was, depending on if they had traveled on foot or by vehicle. Sagan sighed, realizing that none of it really made a difference at the moment. He was exhausted, hungry, and all the other things she had thoughtfully mentioned.
“I don’t have anything for you to wear other than maybe a towel, but the wash won’t take long.”
She turned and led the way into the back of the house and Sagan followed her carefully. As he went he checked the corners of the rooms they passed, just to reassure himself no one else was in the house. Every room, from the office stacked messily with books, papers, and a computer, to the tidy little bedroom with its blue and white gingham and lace bedspread, could claim one thing in common. Each one bore a feline occupant. Three cats in all, including the black one sleeping on the quilts inside. But that was just the ones he could see. The tiger-striped one sitting on the center of her bed seemed to watch their progress with a bit of wry amusement as they headed for the bathroom.
Sagan waited outside of the bathroom as he watched her slowly move around the small, serviceable space in order to round up things she thought he would need for his shower, including a pink disposable razor. Watching her move, feeling more deeply surrounded by her home and her personal things, he couldn’t help but notice more details about her. She was rather pale, her hands, cheeks, and lips showing the wear of living through an Alaskan winter. She was mildly chapped and windburned in each of those places. But it put color on her cheeks and allowed him the opportunity to watch as she paused to put balm on her mouth, using the tip of her pinky to apply it in quick practiced motions. She had a wide smile with rather plump lips for its frame. Sagan had to hurry himself past the path his imagination wanted to take as he studied her succulent-looking mouth a minute too long.
Valera turned to him and smiled a bit nervously, her body language turning awkward as she rubbed her hands together.
“The hot water gets too hot, so be careful so you don’t get…” She stopped and looked down at his hands. With a frown that creased her entire face in empathy, she reached to take up his hand in her gentle, strong fingers. “I’m so sorry about this,” she said as she carefully inspected the raw redness and blisters. “There’s burn cream in the medicine cabinet. Please use some. I’m sorry but I only have my soap and shampoo and they are…well, very girlie. Flowers and herbals, you know?”
“I’m sure it will be fine. Valera, you are being very generous to me and I am very grateful to you for it. As soon as I am well and can travel, I won’t have to abuse your hospitality any longer. Considering the danger that came with me—”
Sagan broke off suddenly as a dreadful thought raced into his mind. What if danger still followed him? Damn it, if he could only remember what had happened! Staying with this woman could potentially be putting her at risk. He had to leave as soon as…
But what if trouble tracked him to here? He would be gone and she would be left alone to defend herself against supernatural beings she had no hope of understanding or protecting herself against. Obviously she had accidentally exposed those other two to light, luck being with her and saving her from who knew what, but others to come after them might not be so careless.