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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
But why? he asked of his stubbornly blank brain. Who would dare to kidnap a penance priest? Had they meant to kill him, they would have done so already. But why would they abduct him? For what purpose?
Valera released a small gasp, and Sagan realized the severity of his thoughts had led him to grip her by her hand perhaps a bit too tightly. He instantly let go of her and she briskly rubbed her freed palm against her jeans over her thigh.
“I’ll let you shower,” she said, backing out of the bathroom. She awkwardly bumped her shoulder into the frame of the door, laughing nervously. “I’ll cook some breakfast. You like eggs?”
“Don’t go to any trouble,” he argued.
“No trouble.” She smiled, the expression turning her features into an enchanting blend of warmth and shyness as she dropped her gaze and tucked her hair behind her ear in a sweetly ingenuous gesture. “I like to cook.”
Sagan watched her go, unable to keep himself from appreciating the snug fit of her well-worn jeans. Catching himself doing it, he growled at himself in frustration for his lack of discipline. He was well known for his unrelenting discipline. Anything less was unacceptable to him. He put the lapse down to the trauma his body had been through and went about stripping himself down and mentally rectifying the problem.
Valera tried to focus completely on her cooking. This was no easy task, considering she’d just swept up two piles of dead people. She realized now what had happened and that it had very much been an accident. After all, how was she supposed to know they were a species hypersensitive to light? In retrospect it made sense now, how they had turned everything off. She had to satisfy herself with knowing that Sagan was safe and free. Of course, for all she knew Sagan could be some kind of monster or prisoner they’d been transporting…
No. The behavior and vibes she’d read had been very clear. Morrigan and Davide had been the source of evil and Sagan was entirely different.
Despite his wariness and his marked caution in answering her questions, he was honest and surprisingly steady for a man who had been through such an ordeal. It forced her to wonder what he’d gotten wrapped up in that he’d been so cruelly abducted and neglected. Poisoned and then given the antidote? Even as her spell had healed him, she had felt the hard and deadly damage that vicious poison had done. Someone had meant to kill him and then changed their mind right at the very brink. Who would kill a priest?
None of this was her problem. Her only issue was to tend to her guest until she could send him on his way and bring her life back to normal. She didn’t care about any of this other stuff.
Except when he had held on to her hand so tightly in the bathroom. She had felt a flash of powerful energy racing up her arm and then diffusing throughout her body until she was completely and thoroughly warmed by it. And considering the places on her body that had felt quite a bit warmer than others in the aftermath of that rush, it was no wonder she found herself conflicted. She’d never encountered a sensation equal to that ever before. It had made her feel exposed—almost as if she’d stripped herself completely naked in front of him.
The man was an utter stranger, she reminded herself as she left her muffins to bake and went to pull out her stepladder from its hiding place. She went slowly throughout the house and unscrewed each and every lightbulb, leaving them carefully secured next to the lamps they had come from. The darkness seemed to trigger in her the inherent habit to flip a switch. She’d done it again when she’d entered the kitchen to cook. She could see just fine in the darkness, but she knew she would forget and the impulse would get her again and again. She didn’t want to see him hurt again, the sight of the burns she had caused making her chest tighten with a lump of guilt at its core.
She did the kitchen last, setting up the stepladder beneath the rows of recessed lighting that ran above every countertop and the central island. This was when Ulysses strolled lazily into the kitchen, yawning and stretching as he came to sit at the foot of the ladder. However, he seemed more interested in eyeing the forbidden countertop than he did requiring her attention.
“Don’t even think about it, Ulysses,” she warned as she unscrewed the current bulb just enough to remove the contact that made it work, but left it hanging in its socket.
I smell food, Ulysses pointed out.
“Look, you just have to wait a little for breakfast, okay? This has been a really crazy morning.”
I noticed. You know I don’t like men, the beautiful black cat sighed. They are loud and aggressive. This one is very big. Not even human…which makes it worse, I suppose. He has more beast within him than any human would.
“Well, maybe the fact that he isn’t human is a point in his favor, hmm? And since you are so astute, why don’t you tell me what he is, exactly?”
A Nightwalker. One of the Dark Cultures.
“Oh God…” she whispered.
Better not let him find out what you are, Ulysses warned sagely.
Mortal enemies. Nightwalkers and human magic-users. Demons, Vampires and all the other breeds killed what they called “necromancers,” human magic-users, with punitive unanimity.
And they were right to do so, Valera thought with a difficult swallow. Almost every necromancer she had ever met had been arrogant, vicious, and morally flawed. Before she had understood what the difference was between what they were and what she was, she had been relieved to find others like herself. But then she had seen them capture Demons and maliciously stake out Vampires with no proof of any crimes or for any other reason except to watch them suffer. They had revolted her, and once she had realized how corrupted they were—increasingly so with every day—she had run.
To here. Here, where she was safe and all the races of the earth were safe from her. She was terrified that the blackness that had overcome those others would overtake her, so she had tried to resist the use of her magic entirely.
Until she had gone to town one spring and found herself being trailed by an army of stray cats, making a spectacle of herself. That was the day she first heard the thoughts of animals, and that a feline’s aged wisdom—which they doled out on a rather sporadic and finicky schedule—passed through them from generation to generation. All cats knew what all the cats before them had known. The small army now lived with her in warmth and comfort, and in trade they gave her guidance that had taught her very simply that all magic wasn’t bad.
It was just a matter of figuring out which spells were which. It turned out to be easy in the end, or rather simplistic. If the intent of the spell was good, then the magic was good. For example, the healing and protection spells she had used. But even those spells could turn a soul bad if used badly and without moral discretion. If she had used the stasis spell on cops so she could get away with a crime, or if she had healed a serial killer so he could go on killing—these were foul intents and polluted a person, making it easier and easier for them to make wicked choices and do evil deeds. Eventually the darkness would overtake them and who they had been would be completely lost.
But Penchant had told her she was a natural born Witch. Her power came whether she called it or not. She only needed to learn control and how to use it well. Unlike necromancers who could be made, a Witch could only be born. However, Witches could easily be turned necromancer if they were not careful or guided properly. Luckily, Valera’s grandmother had recognized the familial gift of magic within her and had guided her well, long before she had fallen in with necromancers and mistaken them as being like herself.
It had taken years to finally feel purged of the stain of the magic she had unintentionally soiled her soul with. Five years to cleanse herself of only four months of bad magic. And to this day she was afraid of making a mistake and hurting someone. Or hurting herself. Today was the first day she had used her magic “against” someone in nine years, and she had been devastated by their deaths. Able to recognize the stain of it now, she had dreaded the feeling of blackness she had expected in backlash.
But it had not come. The universe had deemed her use of magic to be proper and good, the deaths to be unfortunate collateral damage. Valera had not placed evil into her own sphere, it had chosen to invade the comfort and safety of it and had deserved to be purged.
However, none of this would matter to the Nightwalker she was harboring. If he suspected for even an instant that she used any magic at all, he would kill her for it, thinking she was like those who hunted and tortured his kind.
With a gasp she realized her office and all the hundreds of drafted, crafted, and cataloged spells she had researched and gathered were spread out everywhere in plain sight. After nine years of total solitude, what cause did she have to hide them? She needed to shut and lock that door before he could catch sight of it.
Valera spun around quickly on the ladder, coming face to…uh…navel…with Sagan. Startled, she wobbled off balance and bit back a scream. Then powerful and large hands were locking onto her hips to steady her and he naturally leaned his body into hers to keep her from losing her footing. His very damp and very gorgeously well-made body.
Valera instantly cheated. The moment he put his hands on her, all her fears and worries flew the coop and her brain only registered Sagan and all of his fascinating details. She laid her hands on his shoulders, but not for any need of balance. She cheated just so she could touch his smooth, dark skin. Valera felt droplets of water spreading out between the contact, making her fingers slide a little bit, encouraging the slide to become a rather blatant stroke over flexed tendons and stone-hard muscle.
Sagan felt her totter between his hands for only a moment before he moved in to stabilize her. Suddenly he found himself brushing his face against her warm tummy and his shoulders under the stimulating touch of her fingers. Electric attentiveness rushed hastily through him, amplifying the tiniest details to his senses so he would be sure not to miss them. Like the way she smelled even better than before, her cooking labors adding sweetness and more to the scent of lilies and warm woman. Like the way her hands felt as they slowly moved on his shoulders toward the back of his neck, sending icy-hot awareness shooting into every limb of his body. And especially it made him very aware that he only need lift his chin and stretch his neck the smallest bit and he could have the tip of her lush breast between his lips.
The raw carnality of the thought made him lift his chin, his eyes shooting up to see into remarkable turquoise ones. The movement skimmed his nose and lips along the underside of her breast.
He distinctly felt her shiver.
The rebound effect of that single reaction and the soft sigh that she chased it with was profound and painful. Sagan felt his body clench with ages of neglect and need, all of it focusing craving onto the woman he held, and all of it forgetting all of the rules. This was why he lifted her off her feet and let her body slide down the length of his in a delightful torture of friction. By the time her toes touched the floor, he found himself with his arms around her plush little body and her hands toying with the ends of his wet hair.
Hot. Oh God, this man is hot, Val thought with an internal groan of delight as he held her suspended completely in his hold except for the dust mote’s width between her toes and the wood flooring. And hot was purely being applied to the resonating power of his virile and all-too-sexy body. All of that strong muscle packed onto his bones so densely and yet so sleekly; he had to work out constantly to stay so fit. For her, stuck inside almost all winter long, a workout consisted of holding a book for hours, and she knew it showed in largely padded areas. The thought made her blush and she went stiff in his hold, self-consciousness getting the best of her. That opened the door to remembering other things.
Like the fact that he would just as soon kill her as kiss her.
Valera wriggled in his tight embrace, signaling her desire to be let go. Sagan got the message like a kick, her resistance sparking his conscience into remembering that he wasn’t going to be attracted to her anymore. He quickly, although carefully, let her free, watching as she stepped away. The entire contact had lasted under ninety seconds, but it had felt like an eternity condensed all together. Sagan was no stranger to his sexuality, coming from a culture that prided itself on its openness and tradition of complex sexual education for all the students of school age. He even taught some of those classes, although his arena tended to be battle and self-defense classes. But in spite of his well-practiced familiarity with all things concerning sex, he was at an astounded loss to explain the remarkable effect she had on him.
How could a human girl provide even remotely the chemistry needed to stimulate him, never mind stimulating him to this off-the-charts degree? They were as different in compatibility as apes and kangaroos. Granted, they were both upright bipedal species with all the same interactive parts, and yes, they were of the opposite sexes and…gods help him, she was more than minimally his type as far as shapeliness and beauty were concerned and…
Drenna, those damn eyes of hers! Staring up at him in brilliant blue and green vulnerability, drawing his attention to her flushed cheeks and then to her well-shaped mouth as her lips parted to let her quick breaths pass.
Valera jumped in her own skin when his hand suddenly speared forward to snag her around the side of her neck, his thumb firm on the bottom of her jaw as he tilted her head back for his quick approach. Val gasped when she saw the furiously motivated intent in his redwood eyes and she jerked in resistance…but only as far as his secure grip would let her.
“You don’t like me!” she blurted out, the words all she could piece together from everything she had realized.
That only made him smile as he bent his head close to hers, the soft tilt of his lips amused and even a little arrogant.