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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“I think I shall have to test that theory,” he mused softly as his breath skated across her mouth.
Then Valera realized that this tall, gorgeous, and nearly naked male was about to kiss her, and the idea that there might be something to worry about simply flew out the window. Her heart began to race like it had been entered in the Daytona 500. Her hands quickly jumped on the bandwagon of throwing caution to the wind, and she slid them over some of that heated naked skin until she had skimmed his ribs and back on her way up to his shoulders. She felt the roadwork of muscles flexing in response to her passing in little stimulated jumps.
Sagan heard a chorus in the back of his brain warning him of doom and gloom like something out of a Greek play, but there was a much stronger voice drowning it out, demanding he taste his pretty little forbidden fruit.
Just one small taste.
The priest rubbed his mouth over hers, taking a moment just to feel her soft, warm lips and the increasing excitement in her breaths. The faster she drew for air, the more it aroused him. Because he knew what it meant. He knew it was a harbinger to what would come to all his other waiting senses. First it was taste. The gentle intrusion of her flavor as he kissed her in small, brief meshes of their mouths; the promise of something sweeter and so succulent he couldn’t take any more time to wait. He sought her tongue quickly, insisting on the deepest intimacy so he could know all of her on his palate. She made a little humming sound in her throat, the vibration and meaning of it seeking out his spine in a hot instant. Her fingers flexed into his skin, and her body melted back into his with a willing curve. He settled his hand into the small bow of her back immediately, allowing himself to be so close to all that sweetly rounded flesh she harbored.
Sagan’s heart seized as she warmed quickly to him, shyness dissipating and eagerness to explore overtaking her. She became instantly more aggressive, one of her hands spearing into his hair to hold the back of his head. She was preventing him from leaving before she was ready to let him go, and that excited him beyond reason. He was going raptly numb with the shock of sensation that exploded over his entire face as their mouths toyed together again and again. It spread outward and down his whole body until the numbness disappeared and fire arose in its wake, sizzling all the nerves under his skin. It was as if he were swallowing sweetly toxic and forbidden light. Not any light, but pure sunlight. The strongest and deadliest beauty known to his kind.
His Greek chorus drowned a tragic death and went silent. Wrong? What could be wrong about anything that felt so gloriously good? The tragedy would be to stop…or not to push his advantage further. Taking the advice to heart, Sagan slid his hand down over the swell of her bottom and took a serious hold, using the grip to jolt her entire body tighter against his. It drew her pelvis into direct contact with his and announced to her just how she affected his body as the bath towel around his hips did nothing to disguise his hard arousal.
Valera released an adorable little squeak of surprise at the rough jogging of her body, and followed it with a gasp and a sharp break from his mouth when she became aware of his body and its loudly announced state of interest. But despite the shock of her actions, she rose up on her toes to follow his urging as he rubbed her tightly against him.
“And this just from a kiss,” he ground out against her stunned lips. “How is it you have done this to a man who prides himself on his control and discipline? Explain it to me.”
Valera couldn’t explain anything because he engulfed her in another string of burning-hot and increasingly erotic kisses. Sagan’s kiss was like engaging in raw sin, only without the shame or guilt or any of the rest of it. He sipped and sucked at her mouth, then was devouring her with such a keen hunger that her breasts went heavy and taut where they were crushed against his bare chest. She could feel the heat of his naked skin through her sweater, her blouse, and her bra as if she were as naked as he was. His hand on her ass was decadently close to such private places, and it awoke every last one of those places to feel him there.
“Tell me again I don’t like you,” he groaned as he rubbed himself against her restlessly.
“You don’t know me!” she gasped, her hands gripping him all the harder.
“That doesn’t appear to matter,” he breathed heavily. “To either of us.” He smiled against her mouth then, drawing away slightly and stopping his urgent crush against her body, though they remained locked close from the hips down. He slid his hand down from her neck, flattening his palm against her chest as he went. “But if it will make you feel better, Valera, I will tell you that I know a lot about you.”
Val didn’t know how to take that, other than with surprise. She still didn’t know exactly what he was. He could have any number of supernatural abilities. He could be a telepath who could read her mind. Then he would find out…
She yanked free of him hard and fast, taking him completely off guard. Cold hit her body hard, like a cry of anguish as she left his heat. She had to protect herself, she thought wildly. She had to keep distant and…and…and cool. Efficient and friendly. Feed him, get him well, and get him out! And she had to do it without giving herself away. The closer he got, the more he probed her personality or her thoughts or even her body, the higher the risk he would learn the truth, and without meaning to, it could erupt into a battle of survival against him. She couldn’t let that happen! He was too beautiful…and too vulnerable. All it would take was…light.
Valera stumbled to the kitchen sink, bending over it as her belly soured with the very idea. Why, oh why, was this happening to her? She had done everything she could to avoid everyone! Human and non-human alike.
“Valera?” It was a question, but it was even more a reprimand for leaving him. She felt him come closer once again and she turned on the water to muffle the sob that choked her. She began to wash her face, forcing back her emotions.
She straightened up, turning off the water and grabbing a towel to dry her face. She gathered herself together and turned to meet his eyes with a boldness she didn’t feel.
“I’m sorry,” she said stiffly, “but I am not a part of the hospitality I am offering you. Don’t think that just because I live out here all alone I will take any advantage to come my way. You are welcome here in every other way, but not for that.”
Valera turned from his justifiably shocked expression and busied herself taking baked goods from her oven. He hadn’t moved a single millimeter by the time she turned to face him down. He didn’t strike her as a man who would meekly let someone dictate terms to him, and she was right.
“I do not touch you out of convenience,” he all but hissed with the fuel of his fury. “In fact, Valera, I am a priest with very distinct boundaries I must obey, and I promise you I never cross them lightly. Did you not hear the heavy fall of the step I took when I kissed you? You are forbidden to me, Valera, and my legendary discipline was nothing in the face of your effect on me.” He clenched his hands into tight fists. “So do not ever imply I would treat you with so little value and so much disrespect.”
Valera couldn’t respond. She was in shock at his revelation. He had broken the rules for her? All she had to do was look at him standing proud and fierce before her and she knew he did not break rules, but instead he would be the one to enforce them on others. But what he said—it implied that she was some sort of temptation. Something magnetic and irresistible. God, it had certainly felt that way. It had felt as if he would devour her if he could.
Who had ever wanted her like that? Who had ever wanted to break the rules for her?
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, hot tears rushing out of her before she could control it. “I was feeling so much and it was wonderful, but I’m…”
He took advantage of her hesitation to step up to her and firmly draw her close. He lowered his head and spoke softly against her ear. “Afraid?” he asked quietly, accepting her immediate nod. “Yes, Valera, there is too much unknown between us and the unknown is fearful. What I don’t tell you,” he tried to explain, “is what protects thousands and thousands of people. People who are precious to me. Even more precious than the vows I have betrayed just by touching you.”
“You shouldn’t,” she hitched out softly, trying to brush his hold away.
“Never fear, sweet. I will pay penance for my sin. But I will do it gladly and with pleasure just to have known the taste and the feel of you.” This last came out low and intensely erotic, sending shivers down her breasts and tightening her sensitized nipples. “Can you imagine, pretty little Valera, what I would be willing to pay for the chance to immerse myself in the sin that you are?”
Oh, but how could he ever sincerely repent of something that felt so magnificent? Just holding her rocked him with astounding sensation and need. Her vulnerable tears and ridiculous surprise that he would find her so irresistible were too enchanting. He sensed she was a strong woman. She had to be to survive so bravely alone in so harsh an environment, but she was equally sensitive and this, he suspected, was why she had hidden herself away from the rest of her race.
“I won’t let you get punished because of me,” she balked, trying again to draw away from him. But this time Sagan was well prepared for her resistance. She finally stopped struggling when she realized she wasn’t the smallest bit of a challenge to his strength and will. “Why?” she asked weakly as she relaxed against him. “Why, when you know it’s wrong for you?”
“You’re right,” he breathed. “I should control myself better. However, Valera, I find a serious lack of desire to turn away the first woman to stimulate my interest in a very long time. Too long a time. For all I am a devoted priest, Drenna knows I am a man as well. And either this is the cruelest temptation M’gnone could ever dangle before me, or there is another reason behind it. What are the odds I should come here, to this remote little place and this extraordinary woman, only to so suddenly feel this way? And then to have you feel the same in return. No, don’t deny me, Valera. I can feel it. I…”
Know it. Without any doubt, the knowledge burst into his brain with brilliance and satisfaction as his innate telepathic power flared to life inside him. He soared through her wonderful mind, facts and details about her suddenly flooding him, familiarizing him with her, telling him what she held so reluctantly secret.
To one of his kind, the word was a curse and a danger. Those hunted and caught by necromancers were maliciously destroyed by those befouled creatures. The black magic that stained their souls was easy to detect on them, as the foulness emanated from them in a disgusting odor any Nightwalker could smell even from a distance. To the point where it was almost unbearable. They reeked like gasoline and fetid garbage, and their power was deadly and dangerous.
And Valera had been one of them. She had fallen in with them a decade ago, corrupting herself.
However, Sagan only needed to breathe deeply of the clean purity of lilies and sunflowers to know she was not of that evil ilk any longer. Indeed, she had never intentionally meant to be a part of such corruption. When she had learned what they were all about, she had bolted from them as fast and as far as she could, hating herself for her small deviation from the way she really was.
What astounded the priest above everything else was the realization that she still used magic. In fact, she had used it to protect herself from the two who had intended her deep harm. Anger flushed his body as he recalled the threats made against her using her memories of the encounter. She had been so quietly brave, tapping into the part of herself she still half feared to protect herself, her home, and him.
Yet, in spite of having recently toyed with what he deemed to be a dark art, it had left no stain behind itself. There was nothing to mark her as tainted or evil, and he knew that was because she was the farthest thing from it. Indeed, she was something so strong that she had been able to pull herself away from the brink of the addiction the magic she had been using had become to her. Sagan saw and felt it clearly in her mind and memories, the clarity of the understanding so sharp.
Evil magic became an addiction. Like cocaine or methamphetamines, one taste was enough to corrupt the whole person instantly. It cascaded downward from there. But Valera had broken away and saved herself, her moral fiber so strong she couldn’t bear what she had seen them do to his kind so punitively. Feeling how compelling it had been to drown in the high that was black magic, he was shocked at what it must have taken for her to save herself.
However, Sagan had never heard of good magic-users, and he was mystified by the anomaly she was. He was also very aware of her terror that he would find out and try to hurt her for it because of his universal beliefs against her kind. But…it wasn’t “her kind.” She was something very different than those the Shadowdwellers had fought against in the past. Not that it was ever much of a fight. Necromancers had a terrible advantage over his people, as she had recently found out for herself. Just calling her power emitted a brilliant blue energy that would hurt him just like any other light would. Or so he understood. He didn’t know for certain, and he didn’t have time to filter through her every memory of every spell in her repertoire.
“So,” he said softly, “you are even more of a surprise than I thought.”
Valera was looking into his eyes as those long moments of thought passed over him, and so she knew when he said that exactly what he meant. She jolted in instantaneous fear, trying to jerk away from him. “No! I’m not! I’m not what you think! Let go!” she cried when he held her all the tighter. She sobbed harshly in her panic. “Please don’t hurt me,” she begged him. “I don’t want to hurt you!”