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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
She just needed to do a little more research and to have a little patience.
She did patience very, very well.
Tristan sat over his evening meal, but it was obvious he had not taken much interest in it. Probably because he had been banished to eating alone ever since Malaya had set him firmly, and deservedly, in the doghouse. The thing was, he knew his sister as well as he knew himself, and her capacity for forgiveness…her need to be forgiving was almost compulsory for her.
So he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand why she was making him suffer so long. Granted, he deserved it, but it just wasn’t like her. It disturbed him to see the steady, predictable one among them acting off script. And he didn’t like this lack of communication. Especially not with so much hanging in the balance at the moment. He wanted her to come to him for his opinion, damn it. He wanted to be a goddamn brother to her and to make up for being a selfish, unthinking prick.
“Did Trace say when he would be here?”
Xenia was the only one in the room, so she knew he was addressing her. The well-armed guard, who had been compared to everything from an Amazon to a giantess because of her size and her flawlessly buff build, shrugged a single shoulder. She was dressed simply in a sweater and a somewhat short leather skirt. Not tight, but not flared either. There were dual cuts in the sides of it to ensure range of movement. She wore thigh-high boots with low block heels as well. Even without the weapons strapped here and there and her dominating height, Xenia’s mode of dress alone would make her stand out. She preferred modern clothes to traditional skirts and saris. This often earned disapproval from conservatives, but neither she nor Tristan gave a damn. She was good at what she did. The best. That was what mattered.
“Do I look like your secretary?” she asked, tapping her unsheathed Rhiung sword against her heel just to entertain herself with the resonating musical hum the vibrating metal made. The Rhiung was a favored weapon of hers, but it was the startling array of missile weapons she had tucked away everywhere on her body that was her deadliest forte. She even had three small throwing daggers decorating the length of her long black braid.
“It was just a question. I wasn’t listening to him well enough last night. I’ve been a little distracted.”
“Good. At least you’re thinking about what you’ve done.”
“I’ve hardly done anything else!” he snapped. “You know, it’s amazing how I can run a complex hidden society so flawlessly, after building them this city to keep them safe, after inciting civil war to force them to grow up, and when I make one stupid mistake that’s all anyone can attribute to me!”
“Suck it up, M’itisume. You know you earned this. You just have to wait her out. And remember, she’s got other crap flying at her. You’re just a very useful target for venting anger at the moment.”
“Yeah, well…” He frowned darkly, running a hand back through his hair. “I want my sister back. And I want her to tell them to take that antiquated, chauvinistic law of theirs and shove it so far up—”
“K’yatsume!” Xenia greeted loudly over his tirade as the devil herself strode quickly into her brother’s rooms.
“Laya!” Tristan added with surprise as he watched Guin follow her in. He tried to read the warrior, but as usual he was a wall of impassivity. “What brings you here to me?” He knew he sounded surprised, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.
“I have had a most disturbing vision and it is imperative that we discuss it.”
“Yes, love, and I have a most disturbing sister and it is imperative that we discuss that, too.”
The rejoinder made her stop in her tracks so quickly that her skirt swirled around her ankles and Guin almost ran into her. Malaya’s bodyguard closed the outer door. He was no fool. He saw a brewing storm that could easily develop into a challenge of tempers. Unfortunately, along with beauty and intelligence, the twins had inherited equal measure there as well.
“You are in danger. You must add guards to your details,” Malaya pushed on.
“No. Absolutely not. I’ve little enough privacy as it is.”
“But I dreamed of Acadian! I dreamed of her challenging me to trade my life away for that of another. Who else but you would make me vulnerable to that?”
“Did you see her face?”
Malaya huffed in frustration. “No. If I had, I’d be having the twisted thing arrested, now wouldn’t I?”
Malaya turned sharply when Guin countered her.
“What do you mean? I most certainly could.”
“No, K’yatsume, you couldn’t. Officially speaking, Acadian has committed no crimes.”
“No crimes? What do you call what she did to Trace?”
“A war crime,” Tristan answered for him. “If you recall, the only way we could knit this populace together was to pardon all acts of war and give everyone a clean slate. She cannot be tried for her crimes against Trace.”
“Well then, treason! Sedition. She…” Malaya hesitated as she looked from one man to the next. “There must be proof…somewhere.”
“There must be. But we will have to find it first. And we have to find her. I’ve no doubt that if we follow her, the bold bitch will lead us to proof of her crimes. She thinks she is untouchable. It will be her downfall.”
“I pray that you are right, Tristan,” Malaya said. “But this dream was so horrible and so vivid. You know how the vivid ones are the ones to watch! Please, I beg you to take more protection.”
“No. I am sorry, but that is my final word on the matter. Xenia has been enough for me almost as long as Guin has been enough for you,” Tristan said. “She was enough in the dead of battle and enough when we were outnumbered ten to one that time in the outback. I’m not having any more of an entourage than I already do! I don’t care if you dream of doomsday, Laya. I need a life. I need what little privacy I have. Surely you of all people understand that. I mean, gods! When was the last time you were able to take a bath alone? Do you remember what that was like? Or how about having sex without an audience? Granted, for me that isn’t always a bad thing…” Tristan grinned and ducked when Xenia took a swipe at him. “But surely you would like some intimacy without Guin standing right there! You’re talking tightening security, and before this began I had been hoping we could loosen it some.”
“With Acadian running free within inches of us every day? Are you mad?”
“She’s right,” Guin said quietly. “It would be foolish to relax with Acadian gunning for your throne. I know these past ten years of living by strict royal protocol have been a tough adjustment…for all of us. But it’s part and parcel of what you both wanted so badly. It comes with the job.”
“I know that.” Tristan sighed with frustration. “And I know we can’t relax our guard just now. I just won’t tolerate you trying to suffocate me with protection, Laya. I’m not a boy and I’m not a weakling. I am a warrior, too, you know. I can protect my own damn life.” He frowned darkly. “And I know I screwed up with you really badly, but you act like you have no faith in me at all, and I don’t think I deserve that because of a bad judgment call. If I’m guilty of anything it’s loving you too damn much, and I’ll be happy to try working it down if that’s really what you want.”
“That’s not fair. You know I cannot argue with you when you pull the love card.” She pouted and, like a charm, Tristan was drawn across the room and he took her in his arms for a hug. Guin shook his head and grinned. She really was a crafty little thing. She used every resource she had to its fullest, including feminine wiles.
“Well, you’re pouting,” Tristan countered, not letting her get away with thinking he wasn’t fully aware of her trickery. “You know I can’t stand it when you make this little boo-boo face. It reminds me of when you were seven and I tricked you into sitting on all those ants. You looked at me like this and I realized how betrayed you felt. It’s worked on me ever since, even though I know it’s a damn ploy. You are such a wily little thing. You know just how to work every last one of us.”
“You make me sound manipulative,” she complained.
“Because you are. You’re a queen, Laya. If anyone needs to be manipulative, it’s you and I. Otherwise we’d never have come this far. Just be careful you’re doing it for a good reason and not just because you can.” He drew back to look at her, running a hand over her head. “The Senate meets again tomorrow. Are you ready for it? It’s going to be a circus. And keep an eye on that Angelique. She’s working real hard at drowning you with this law. Everyone knows Jericho is her lover. She’s pulling his strings sure as I’m standing here.” Tristan looked at Guin. “She’s got that streak in her. She could be Acadian.”
“I’ve thought about it. But I’m thinking she wouldn’t be so obvious. I don’t know.”
“I’ve got work. You and Rika and Trace should get together to prepare for tomorrow. I’ll see you a bit later? And are we done punishing me yet?”
“Yes and yes,” she sighed. “And to prove it I will dance for you tonight.”
“Excellent! Let’s invite our close company. Magnus and his new girl as well. They will be honored to be guests of your dance, and I have been feeling they well deserve a reward for all they had been subjected to on our behalf.”
“You are right. I will have Trace arrange it.”
Since there was no Senate session that day, Malaya spent most of it in meetings or working in her office. Guin watched her carefully, as he always did, but now he was carefully scrutinizing her body language. Making up with Tristan had been a powerful relaxant for her. However, her twin’s refusal of extra protection seemed to negate the effect. Guin could understand why. He had seen how powerfully the vision had affected her, the sound of her screaming his name still on the edge of his mind.
It was well enough until the midnight meal. She ignored her food and began to pace, her mind obviously trying to scheme a way to get what she wanted.
“Perhaps I can use guards out of uniform,” she suggested. “Faces he won’t recognize but men Killian trusts.”
“K’yatsume, we have a very tightly secure area most of the time. Familiar people and familiar routines. You think he will not notice loiterers?”
“Guin!” She stopped pacing to shoot him a look. “You are the clever warrior. You think of something.”
Guin crossed the room to her, standing close and reaching to pat her shoulder. “I think you should trust Xenia. As well as Killian and the guards. We honestly cannot improve on this protection, Malaya. If she can figure out how to get through all of this, more men isn’t going to be of help.”
There. That was more like it, Guin thought. It was a familiar and friendly interaction and he had remained clear and calm. This was how it had been for all those—
Malaya stepped forward and slid her arms tightly around his ribs. She rested her cheek against his as she stood on her toes and hugged him tightly.
Ah, damn, Guin thought with heat. There it was, sharp as a knife gutting through him. That instant surge of hunger that made every nerve come to attention. The feeling that his senses were eagerly seeking the input they so enjoyed. Then her richly stunning scent would wash over him and get deeply absorbed by his every cell. The bonus shot was the warmth of her, with a decadent chaser in the form of all that flexing, lean muscle under soft, sweet skin.
Guin’s tether on his self-control was fraying. Urges he shouldn’t be allowing himself kept ambushing him. Kiss her, one said seductively, taste her once again. Curves and silken skin all within reach, tempted another.
He had always believed, on instinct and maybe because of all he had absorbed about her in all of this time, that he could figure out what would please her best. There were things she did, subtle clues she gave off that were lost if you didn’t know her or pay special attention to them. Even she did not realize the complexities of her body and its needs. It was so hard to resist the urge to see if he was right; to make her reach every inch of her full potential.
Normally, he would never have allowed himself to think of such things while she was in his arms because it was cruel and torturous to himself, and it was presumptuous and insulting to her. All she sought was the warmth and affection of a hug. These paths he took made him a betrayer of her faith and trust in him.
Guin was not known for being relaxed, but Malaya felt as though she were hugging a building. He was stiff and tense and had barely put his arms around her in return, his hands holding her shoulders as if he were dying to push her away. Malaya closed her eyes and for the first time slowed her thoughts and examined his behavior at this moment, and most importantly, in her bath last night. Guin had left her so abruptly and had been so mean afterward that she had been too confused to analyze what had happened. But the tenser he grew within her arms, the clearer it all became.
Her guard had developed a desire for her.
No. Her Guin, her beloved friend, had developed a desire for her. She drew back in his hold and looked for his eyes. He avoided her for an instant, but he was too close to hide from her what he quickly concealed behind his usual gruff stoicism. She had seen the same stark yearning that he had shown her by the bath. In his eyes she could see the words he had spoken—I crave you—and she felt her blood flush tight and hot in her veins.
She drew away from him, putting several steps between them, and monitored herself with fascination. Her heart was beating in quick flutters and her skin tingled with the desire to get close to all of that brutish strength and intense body heat once more. Malaya was astonished. She had so little desire for men of late. Adequate as they had been, there had always been an infuriating feeling of unfairness; the petulant thought that they had gotten far more out of the encounter than she had. She was probably too distracted by the intensity of her life to relax enough and truly enjoy the moment.