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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“I can. I can show them that. And you’ll stay with me?”
“For the rest of your life, Valera. I want to share every instant of it. I was insane to think nine days would ever be enough.”
“I don’t care if you become old and cranky and sickly. It doesn’t matter to me. Look at it this way; I can make you a happily satisfied woman far longer than any other man could.”
“Sagan!” She laughed.
“I’d rather have forty years with you, no matter what time does to you, than none at all. In a world full of light, there’s even a chance you’ll outlive me.”
“Don’t say that,” she whispered, pain entering her eyes with a sharp tang he could feel.
“Ah, baby,” he sighed as he gathered her tight and close. “Come and live with me in my world. We’ll take our life together one night at a time. We’ll learn everything we couldn’t share before. If you find yourself unhappy, then I’ll find a new purpose in the world somewhere else until you are content. I just want you here, close to my heart, where I can make you feel the way I love you.”
That sounded perfect to Valera. The future, especially the more distant future, was a frightening prospect, but he was right about all of it. She had to help others like herself. She had only had the cats, and they had only come after she had withdrawn from bad magic by herself. How many others were there without that strength? Did that make them any less worthy of rescue than she had been, or did it just make them more in need of guidance? She couldn’t turn her back on this chance, and she could never turn away from the love Sagan was offering her.
Maybe years down the line she would feel selfish for keeping him to her side…maybe she wouldn’t. But she couldn’t waste the opportunity to relish what she could.
“Sagan, I love you,” she whispered at last, finally giving herself the freedom to speak it aloud to him. “Let’s do this. Let’s make a new future for us…and for others who so desperately need us. This will be good work. It will be so much better than hiding here in fear. I won’t be so afraid with you to keep me safe.”
“Oh, you’ll be afraid…and rightly so, honey,” he corrected her, “but I know you will overcome it and shine brilliantly in spite of it. Anyone who can do what you have done is capable of doing anything.”
“Even becoming the human mate of a Nightwalker?”
“Well”—he grinned in a flash of white teeth—“I may have to run a few tests…”
“Ohhh,” she gasped with a laugh as he turned his attention back to her sensitive body spots. “A lot of tests?”
The sheer eagerness of the question made him laugh.
“Let’s just say you have to submit to them on a moment-to-moment basis.”
“Mmm. Oh! The cats!” she burst out suddenly. “They have to come with us.”
With a chuckle Sagan informed her, “They are packing as we speak. Now, let’s focus on letting me apologize for leaving you.”
“Oh, yeah”—she frowned—“that was very bad.”
“It was. It won’t happen again.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” she pouted.
“I know. They told me. I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” She quirked a little smile at him. “In fact, I think you ought to confess your sin and pay a little penance.”
Sagan’s left brow shot up in surprised amusement.
“You think so?”
“Yeah. So let’s go. Get on your knees.” She giggled, pushing at the top of his head to guide him down the length of her body. “I always wanted to say that to a man.”
“Mmm, but if this is your idea of penance, Valera, it won’t be very effective.”
“Then think of it as a reward, instead. For coming back.”
“Now that will be very effective.” He chuckled as he lowered his head to kiss her.
The Shadowdweller Civil War…about thirteen years earlier
“K’yatsume! To me!”
Guin roared out the command over the sounds of men shouting with the bloodlust of battle, their weapons firing and clashing just a few rooms away. The twin imperial heirs were under direct attack, their nondescript hideaway discovered by their enemies. Apparently, in the game of spies and intrigue, the would-be royal Chancellors of the Shadowdweller society had just lost their current hand. Someone had given their location away and now a worst-case scenario loomed up around them.
Malaya and her twin, Tristan, were in separate locations in the manor. Opposite ends of the same floor, in fact. It had been planned that way for precisely this reason by their bodyguards, Guin and Xenia, who were each responsible for their own charge. Guin protected Malaya, and Xenia guarded her brother.
They had prepared for a scenario just like this, making certain brother and sister knew to not waste time searching each other out. Each was to get to safety on their own, at all costs, no hesitation or looking back. If they were going to win this war and stand for their beliefs, at least one of them had to survive everything through to the end.
Malaya had been with Guin in her rooms, preparing for bed, when they had heard the first explosion of violence from the front rooms of the house. Guin had been kneeling to open his bedroll at the base of the door outside her bedroom, as was his routine every night. Malaya had been across the sitting room near the only visible exit out of the suite, braiding her hair in front of the mirror there. When the first sound of trouble reached them, she startled visibly, even as Guin surged up from his crouch. There was nothing worse for the guardian warrior than the realization that his mistress was several strides out of his reach just when war and dangerous chaos suddenly started to reign around them.
The bodyguard and the one he protected looked across the room at each other, time gearing down to a heart-stopping slowness.
Guin had known the beautiful noblewoman he guarded for around forty years, and he knew every single one of her expressions better than he knew his own. He realized within an instant what she was going to do, and he suddenly felt his heart sink like a leaded weight into his gut. It was as if thick molasses flooded around him as he tried to move even faster than his lightning-fast reflexes and significant power could allow for.
“K’yatsume! To me!”
Trouble was, Malaya was just as fast as he was, her lithe and powerful dancer’s body half as heavy as Guin’s bulk of impressive height and muscle. When she decided to disobey everything she had been trained to do in trade for the instinct to run to her beloved twin brother, she knew she would have to outrun her protector as well as the menace outside of her door in order to have her way. She turned and lunged for the door, the k’jeet she wore in preparation for bed swirling in a light cloud of midnight blue gauzy cotton. The fabric was so thin and insubstantial that the shadow of her shape, even the warm mocha of her skin, was just visible through it. As Guin chased after her into the hallway, he could see her running in the perfect darkness with the material streaming against her body, continuing on behind her like the tail of a comet as she raced around the corner for her brother’s rooms.
Guin refused to let her out of his sight and poured on speed, his body churning out the adrenaline needed to push him to the point he desired. He gained on her just as she would have crossed the landing, exposing herself to the fighting taking place in the anteroom at the base of the stairs. There had been no choice. Guin had heard the sound of shots being fired. The use of firearms was rare, the flash of a muzzle just as painful to the light-sensitive Shadowdweller that wielded the weapon as it was to the target being fired at, but clearly their enemy was desperate to achieve their objective.
And their objective was running straight into their sights.
Guin reached out, wrapping his fist into the stream of blue fabric whipping off Malaya’s body and stopping hard as he yanked her back with all of his might. He heard the delicate stuff tear, but knew it would hold. It did, and Malaya was jerked backward with a strangled rush of breath as she found herself suddenly flying in the opposite direction from her intention. Her body crashed into Guin’s with a bone-jarring impact, but what she felt most was the clamp of an arm muscled in steel pinning her to him around her waist.
“No!” she cried out in despair, knowing she could never escape him now. “Tristan!”
“Sua vec’a! Are you out of your mind?” he bellowed in fury into her face, making her flinch. Just then the corner of the wall near them exploded into pieces as a large-caliber bullet tore through the plaster.
Guin had no time to be pleasant, polite, or any of those other things he was never any good at anyway. He bent a huge shoulder to her middle and hauled her right up off the floor like he would a sack of frousi. Her shapely rear end ended up in the air, her hip against his cheek and her hands gripping his waist as her top half hung upside down over his back. He rapidly reversed direction and ran back with her into the suite they had come from. Once he slammed the door shut, he could hear her cursing him out in Shadese. Then, just because she was really pissed off, she bit him right on his ass.
“Bituth amec!” Guin swore at her, having half a mind to bite the little spitfire right back since an equal target was right in range of his teeth. It was a startlingly attractive idea, and Guin had the damnedest time fighting the urge to do just that.
“I want my brother, you big ape!” she yelled at him. She swung at him and smacked him, again going for his backside. For all her noble upbringing, Malaya was no frail, delicate miss. She was damn strong and she didn’t hold back as her outrage fueled her strike. The impact shot through Guin with an astonishing amount of shock, the force ricocheting right through the seat of his testicles and down into his thighs, making him stumble in his surprise.
This time he didn’t curb his retaliation. But since he held her in one hand and his sword in the other, he had to satisfy himself with using the flat of his blade against her upraised derriere. Malaya squealed in shock. He knew the strike had smarted because he had meant it to. Then, before she could retaliate against him once again, he kicked through her bedroom door and threw her onto her bed. Blue fabric and long ebony hair that had unwound from her unsecured plait went flying over the bedding. She bounced on her back and used her momentum as she sprang back up to lunge up to her feet. Guin stopped her with a hard hand to her breastbone and shoved her right back down again.
“Cease!” he barked at her, bending over her carefully as he held her down. He knew her temper well enough to know she wasn’t above kneeing him if he gave her the opportunity. “Enough, you spoiled little brat!”
Clearly, cooling her temper wasn’t his aim. She hated being called spoiled or anything that disparaged her character. It didn’t matter that they both knew she wasn’t anything close to spoiled, just that he dared to treat her like a child.
However, anything she might have said or done in retaliation was thwarted when the sound of splintering wood came from the outside room. Guin looked at her, saw her eyes draw wide open and her pulse jumping in her slim throat. He leapt off her, grabbed her hand, and yanked her up behind him as the bedroom door burst open.
The muzzle flash blinded him. The bullet hit him hard and fast, ripping into his left shoulder just inches above his heart. But Guin was like a bull as he took the shot and surged forward in fury. He was blinded, but so was the shooter, he knew. He still had his sword arm, and he used it to whip the massive long blade ahead of himself like a Cuisinart on purée. He was more than prepared for when he hit flesh and bone. Once he did, his eyesight no longer mattered. Years of instinct and training took over and in three quick movements he had disarmed, disemboweled, and decapitated his foe. He jerked back as the body fell, listening for others he could not see.
“Guin!” Malaya was shouting at him as she wrapped both her hands around the bulging biceps that bore the weight of his weapon.
He knew better than to ignore the fear in her voice and he moved just in time to be missed by a missile of some sort, he would have guessed an arrow, as it breezed by his face.
He knew he had to clear his vision or he would be useless. Malaya would end up protecting him, an idea he absolutely could not stomach. But there was nothing he could do to speed the healing of his scorched retinas. He had no choice but to allow Malaya to push him against the wall out of the line of fire. Shadows were already forming for him, though, his eyes recovering just enough to see two figures rush into the bedroom.
They met up with the whipping power of a dancer’s well-placed kick. Malaya whirled on her pivoting foot until her speed was hard and sharp, the back of her heel crushing the face of the first assaulter, and continuing on to stun the second. The fabric of her gown floated high and tight to her body as she reversed herself, did a ball-change, and hooked the back of her knee into her opponent’s throat, dragging him down to the ground with the crushing flex of her amazing thigh muscles. She glided over his prone body, a swirl of midnight blue climbing her bare skin as she moved to catch his arm between her calves, churning in a brutal pirouette that snapped the long bone cleanly in two. Her victim screamed and she didn’t care for the potential alarm it raised, so she fed her heel into the poor bastard’s throat.
Except for the two remaining fighters’ heavy breathing.
“Done?” Guin demanded.
“Yes,” she breathed, reaching for him. “Drenna, we have to go!”
He agreed and followed her as she pulled him back into the room, leading him to the closet and the escape hall stairs hidden within. The old English manor had once been a buccaneer’s home, and both bedrooms had escape routes that dropped down belowground and into a cavern that eventually led down to the beach at the base of the cliffs below them. It was why Guin had chosen the place to begin with. It allowed them to escape the home day or night, avoiding all possible run-ins with light or sunlight, either of which could kill their kind right in their tracks if they were exposed to it.