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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“For her I will,” he said, surprising her. “Especially at the end, Laya.”
Malaya stared at his broad back as she struggled for composure.
“Promise me, Guin, that you will be here no matter what,” she begged him. “Tell me you will come back at least for—”
“No. Once I leave I will not return, Laya. Not for anything.”
“But why?” she burst out in sudden pained anger. “I don’t understand! What did I do, Guin? Why are you punishing me?”
He turned hard, anger in his eyes.
“Not everything, Princess, is about you!” He clenched both fists as his muscular body rippled in repressed emotion. “You don’t ask me to come back for Rika’s sake, the one who will spend days screaming for someone to kill her to end the pain, do you? No, it’s all about you. You want me here to protect you. You want me here to be a companion for you. You want what you want and to Light with what’s necessary for anyone else! You spoiled, selfish bitch!”
Guin had called her spoiled before and a few other names, but never had he called her a bitch. He deemed it beneath himself and the respect due her to ever be so nasty to her. In fact, whatever his temper, he had always treated her as something untouchable and above himself, with the respect due her position. Now she was stunned utterly speechless as he turned away again, cursing himself under his breath.
“I think some distance is needed, K’yatsume,” he said with hoarse haste. “The assassins hired to kill Trace’s wife and child are still unidentified and at large. I think I will make myself useful in Magnus’s search for them. Killian will watch over you while I am gone. It will only be a few days.”
“But you just got back,” she said dumbly, her shock still resonating through her.
“I see. So I should stay because you missed me and let these brigands kill an innocent woman and child?”
“I did not say that!” she exploded, temper jolting her out of her stupor. “Leave, then, if you must! Stay gone, for all you seem to care about it. What difference to either of us? Why even wait at all? I’ll go to Tristan and demand your dismissal this very instant!”
“You’ll do no such damned thing!” he roared, on top of her in an instant and all but shoving her back against the door. “I’ll leave only when I wish to leave, K’yatsume, and even you will not tell me otherwise!” He grabbed her face between both hands, jerking her eyes hard up to his own. “If I can suffer to be near you, then you can suffer to be near me! You will repay my loyalty and my dedication to this job I have done by giving me that much respect at least! At least that is a regard I have earned and am worthy of!”
He jerked them both back from the door, opened it, and roughly set her outside of his room before slamming the door emphatically shut.
It was just past noon, daylight burning in the Alaskan wilderness outside of where the Shadowdweller city lay burrowed for miles beneath the surface of the mountainous terrain. No light, not even the smallest refraction, penetrated the perfect soothing blackness that kept so many of them safely protected. Everyone was asleep, their natural instinct still to follow the light for their resting cycles even though they were so deeply set away from it. It was instinctive, just like their need to migrate in search of the longest, darkest nights every time the seasons turned.
Guin lay in his customary bedroll in his customary place, except he was resigned that there would be no sleep for him this day. In the evening he would go see Magnus. Several weeks ago a twisted woman, a handmaiden named Nicoya, had tried to organize a coup of Sanctuary, the Shadowdweller religious house and education center that was run by Magnus. She had almost succeeded, too. Killing off and turning other priests to her will and making victims of students, she had cut a wide path of damage—including the disappearance of the priest Sagan and the hiring of the assassins that were scheduled to hunt Trace’s wife and baby to the death starting two months after the child was born. They’d also discovered Nicoya to be from very familiar bad blood. She was the daughter of a k’ypruti named Acadian who was renowned for her skills as a torturer during the wars.
In fact, the night of the invasion of the twins’ household during the civil war, when Rika had thought she’d seen Trace die, it had been Acadian who had taken him prisoner. She’d healed him of his wounds just so he would be nice and healthy when she began to torture him. To this day the vizier bore the horrific scars over his skin, a testament to the brutality he had suffered for the better part of a year while they all falsely believed him to be dead. Rescuing Trace from that had been one of the best and worst moments of Guin’s life. He knew and respected Trace’s power and intelligence, but the moment Guin had found him, he had thought there was nothing left of him but his damaged body.
Thankfully, he had been wrong. A testament to his strength of will and character, Trace had recovered. Unfortunately, his crafty torturer had never let him see her face. In fact, there was no one he could find anywhere who knew what Acadian looked like. This told Guin that she bore an alternate identity. Before she had died, Nicoya had confessed that her mother was one of the Senate. She was an unknown entity of power who was working to destroy the hold the twins had gained, by either legal deceptions or illegal attempts at assassinating those around them until they were left bare and vulnerable for the kill. Karri’s attempt on Magnus’s life and on Malaya’s had been a part of that. The two attempts on Trace as well.
But now…now Acadian’s daughter had set this assassination legacy in motion against Trace’s beloved mate, and knowing the assassination clans as he did, Guin was aware that the hired clan would not stop until the job was done. Trace’s wife Ashla was in their sights, and in about a year she would give birth and trigger the hunt.
There were very few clans who would take on the killing of a child. Very few. This was something only an insider would know. And though it had been fifty years since he had run with his old clan, Guin was still an insider. He simply needed to work himself back into those darkest places of their city. Not an easy trick, actually, because he was also very infamous for abandoning his people in order to set himself above them at the side of a queen. At least, that was how they had seen it at the time.
But the clans had been dissolved and now the assassins were dealing in an illegal trade. Trace had created the law declaring it a high crime for one ’Dweller to kill another without provable and imperative cause. So now clans had become secret guilds of those who had not reformed themselves. Some had scruples, some did not. Guin doubted Nicoya would have chosen third-rate slackers, so it would be those among the most treacherous. And while most were there in the city, there were some that were not. That would mean travel, and travel aboveground could be a very dangerous proposition for a Shadowdweller sometimes. Luckily there was always Shadowscape. A ’Dweller could Fade into the parallel dimension where the only light was shed from the moon above. Moonlight was the only light that did not hurt them, so it made Shadowscape completely safe for travel.
But only for a maximum of two days. The ideal environs of Shadowscape became too much of a good thing by then, causing a state of euphoria that, often, sufferers were unable to be aware of and would therefore remain in the ’scape until their minds were destroyed.
It proved to Guin something he had known for quite some time.
Even perfection came with perils.
The thought made him glance at the door of the bedroom, and he sighed. When Malaya had come to talk to him, he’d been desperate to deflect attention away from their encounter in her bath. Now, as a result, he’d said things he hadn’t meant. Things that weren’t entirely true. Malaya was not a selfish person. Indeed, she sacrificed herself for the sake of others far too much, as their recent argument over this marriage law had been proving. But she was a bit spoiled thinking that everyone ought to do what she thought was best for them and her plans. It came from living a life of privilege growing up and that indefatigable desire she had to create wonderful things for everyone. Sometimes she simply forgot that she didn’t always know what was right for everyone else. It was hard to tell her otherwise when she was, in fact, responsible for knowing what was ideal for an entire population.
But this was where her twin usually complemented her. He’d been a bit of a rebel against his privilege as he’d grown, preferring to get dirty, brawl a bit, and enjoy a freedom he wasn’t supposed to be indulging in. He’d preferred public schooling at Sanctuary to his sister’s private tutors. It turned out that they actually had very little in common…except this untouchable thread of loyalty and love between them that was woven of thick titanium emotions. Nothing could lay a hand on it. It was the stuff of legend.
Tristan was just grassroots enough to temper Malaya’s impetus of interference. She was faith and forgiveness when he was too hard and unreasonable. Laya was optimism, delight in life, and absolute in her conviction that there was possibility in everyone—all that was needed was to provide opportunity. Her brother was the pessimist, the one who agreed with her to a point and kept a watchful eye out for those who would abuse her kindnesses. She was active in the community; he was the one who had built the city that housed and protected that community.
It was a perfect combination.
Malaya had lost her young naïveté through the years of fighting for her rightful place in the world. After all, war sobered everyone. She did not have unrealistic expectations, just expectations that only she could imagine the way to achieving some times. And when she proved it true, when it worked just as she wanted it to, it was something damn miraculous to see. Part of it, he knew, was her precognitive skills, but the rest was pure faith and creativity. She could see a future, it was true, but the trick was in how to make it happen, and that was where she excelled.
Her scream came suddenly, a blood-chilling shriek of desperation. Guin was armed and through the door in an instant. His eyes swept the room and she screamed for him again. Malaya was sitting upright in her bed, arms outstretched, fingers grasping as her beautiful whiskey eyes stared sightlessly up at the ceiling.
She’d have the whole household on them if she continued to scream so disturbingly. Knowing well how she hated rousing from a vision surrounded by people and afraid of how she had been unwittingly behaving, he hurried into her bed and filled those reaching arms as he gathered her up close and tight to himself.
“Shh,” he soothed her, trying to give comfort when his heart was racing with fear and adrenaline was blasting through him. Gods, he thought in a cold flash of realization, how can I ever leave her? It was moments like this when he believed he would hear her screams for help anywhere in the world, no matter his distance away from her, and that he would never escape his seemingly instinctive calling to keep her safe. “I’m here, my honey,” he whispered thickly against her ear. The smell of her overwhelmed him, the clawing of her grasping nails into his bare back tearing him up in more ways than one.
She wasn’t crying, and he never knew if that was a good thing. Sometimes it meant she was terrified beyond something like tears, other times it meant they weren’t called for. But she rarely screamed out like this. He’d heard her wake with a raw gasp often enough over time, but this vision held her entrapped and he was helpless until it chose to let her go.
“Guin,” she rasped again, her hands desperately holding him close, their restless grasp continuously searching for the best and tightest hold on him.
“Yes, I’m here,” he assured her, crushing her lithe body to his in the tightest of hugs so she could feel him as much as possible. He heard Rika in the doorway, but as usual she returned to her room when she realized Guin was in control of the situation. He found that funny, because he couldn’t have felt more out of control if he had tried.
“Guin…my Guin,” she breathed as her fingers threaded up into his hair at the back of his neck.
His reaction was instantaneous and brutal. Guin felt every muscle in his body clench tight at the stimulus of her touch, but more from the impact of her verbal claim on him. Oh, she’d referred to him this way before, but each time had been a light and affectionate toss of words. There was deep intensity for him feeling her say it like this. Feeling her against him while she did. The smell of her sleep-warmed body and the feel of it under the slide of the silk tissue of her k’jeet. And the touch of her hands reminding him of how she had recently pulled him down to taste her.
Guin closed his eyes and tried to take rein of himself. She would awaken soon and he was not going to be in a state of sexual excitement when she did. It would be a thrice-damned perverted betrayal. She despised her vulnerability and inability to control her actions and she would despise him for getting off on it. Gods, he didn’t mean to! He fought it with everything he had, but for some reason it wasn’t enough anymore. It was as if she’d opened a floodgate and his strength wasn’t enough to close it again.
He needed help.
Guin heard her gasp softly, her entire body stiffening in his hold. He relaxed his grip on her and she drew back slowly, her soft cheek skimming against his as she looked for his eyes. She was dramatically paled, her pupils wide with fear he could taste. Her hands came around to frame his jaw, her slim fingers tickling his sideburns gently.
“Guin,” she sighed, the trouble between them invading her eyes and expression until her forehead creased with tension.
“What did you see?” he asked her regardless of all that. It was always critical that he know. Her visions had forewarned them of trouble too many times for him to ignore a single one of them.