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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
But the point was that no one had caught her eye for some years now. How outrageous it was to find herself so stimulated by Guin! Of all people! Not that he wasn’t a stimulating male, because there was most definitely a very delicious quality of barely civilized strength and potency that he reeked of, but…
Guin? Guin had seen her every best and worst moment for fifty years! He knew her every trick, her every mood. He even read her mind sometimes, she could swear it. And how could she want…?
The open-ended thought was filled with a sudden barrage of images, almost like a vision, and she started imagining exactly what she could want from a man like Guin. Somewhere between thinking about those rough, callused hands on her skin and that powerful masculinity controlling her body, she lost all coordination and had to sit on the nearest couch. She had to turn her face from him as a hot flush crawled up her breasts and throat.
Oh my gods, she thought in utter shock. I just imagined how it would feel to have my legs wrapped around him as he…
She went warm and wet in a wicked rush, making her heart pound painfully with the sudden stimulus. Now she couldn’t keep herself from looking at him. He was walking away and she watched how he moved with perverse fascination. He wants me, she thought. And realizing that was absolutely profound. How long? she wondered. How long had she been so blind? Since he’d touched her in the bath? Since he’d threatened to guard her from the inside out those weeks ago?
Drenna…Since the war, when he had warmed her with erotic whispers of what he might tell her if she only asked once more?
And to keep it so perfectly trapped away. She could not have been that dense! Granted, she had relegated him to a specific role in her mind and she could be stubborn about those things, but she realized it was also because he had the control and fortitude of mountains, and he had forced himself to maintain the role she had wished him to fill. How had someone of such potency kept himself in so narrow a space? And for how long?
She had never considered him as a sexual male before. Not seriously and not as pertained to herself. He barely left her side. He never entertained women, though he had every right to. Maybe that was why she’d never thought much about it. And now she had to wonder…why hadn’t he ever pursued her? Yes, there was danger in it because they worked together and all of those details that could get knotted up, but after fifty years it was clear they could manage or overcome anything. Even falling in and out of an affair. She honestly believed that. Why had he not seriously approached her—and just considering those brief teases of his fiendish sexual male aggression when he had used it simply to bully her, what if he truly applied himself?
Ah…like in her bath. He had lost control of himself when she had kissed him. What had followed after the kiss, that had been pure application of his desires. Had she not been taken so by surprise, everything could have been different. He might not have left. They both might have taken it much more seriously.
But it did track, the way it had all come about. For all his aggressive personality and all of his courage, he would never make the first move. He would consider it a breach of trust. To him it would be bad form, a form of pressure because of their close confines. Of course he wouldn’t pressure her. Not her noble Guin. To his thinking it would be unfair to her because she was trapped in his presence day and night. Especially if she had not returned the attraction.
Malaya sat back, crossing her legs slowly as she fixed her gaze on her bodyguard and smiled a little smile. She would have to be the one to pursue him, if she wanted to even consider it. Oh, but the more she thought about it, the more the idea appealed to her. Who would make a better lover? He knew her perfectly. They always had good conversation, he was close at hand constantly, and, well, if he was going to leave his position soon and if her head was on the marital chopping block, there would be no better opportunity than now. What kinds of heat could the two of them create? The man gave her an erotic chill just by touching her back. How would he feel? How would he taste? Guin was a creature of such intensity, but with her he could also be infinitely gentle. Which would she find in his bed?
Those questions and a hundred others raced through her mind until she had to look away from him lest he see the savage fire in her eyes. The fun would be in seeing what she would have to do, exactly, to push him over the edge. What would make him forget all about protocol and deference and all the rest of it? What would it take to tangle them together purely as a man and a woman?
Lucky for her, she’d had the very best sexual instructors in town.
Guin was restlessly wandering the room as Malaya gathered her thoughts. It was better when he wasn’t too close to her. The less feedback for his senses, the easier it was to control all those infuriatingly inappropriate impulses. At this rate, it was only a matter of time before he screwed up again like in the bath. He’d gotten too close, his bullying backfiring on him big time. He’d not make the mistake again.
“Guin, come here.”
The invitation brought his full attention to her, something in the pitch of her words tickling at the hairs on the back of his neck. He hesitated only a moment, but then crossed to her. He stopped three feet away from her. Malaya laughed at him and patted the couch beside her.
“Guin, you really should learn to relax when you have the chance.”
“I can’t afford to relax. Now more than ever. I’ll not rest properly until I have that bitch’s head in a sack. Pardon or no pardon, K’yatsume, that woman will pay for what she did to Trace and who knows how many others. It may not be condoned by this Chancellery, but it will happen.”
“And who will do this? You? If you do, they all will assume I gave you the order.”
“There are ways, My Lady. Or do you forget how we met?”
“Never in a dozen centuries will I forget that night.”
“Nor I,” he said quietly, his gaze falling on her so softly she could tell he was remembering the first moment he’d seen her. “It was the manor house in Swenton. Three stories and you in the corner room with the windows shoddily bricked in. It only took ten minutes to pry out a space large enough to pass through.” He came and took the seat she had offered him, never breaking eye contact. “I entered the room and there you were, sitting up on the edge of your bed waiting for me with your hands primly folded in your lap. It was so obvious you were expecting me, and I didn’t know what to make of you.”
“You’ve come to kill me,” Malaya said just as she had then. “It was the first time you called me princess, and though you meant it snidely, you did not say it that way. It was as if you changed your mind about being nasty to me partway into it.”
“How could I be nasty to you? You were so unnervingly brave, sitting in the moonlight from the window I’d come in by. Dressed in a very light blue, so contrary to our customs. It was as if you wore it on purpose to show me you had no plans for escape into the shadows.”
“Because I did. I thought it all out quite carefully. My vision had prepared me for you.”
“You were so young, but…you’ve always held wisdom in your eyes. I came at you with my black assassin’s blade drawn and you never so much as flinched. But you kept my eyes. You were a wily thing even then. You kept my gaze as if you were burning me to memory and then you said…”
“I forgive you for this. And I will pray for you.”
“Oh gods, did that piss me off. I should have known right then it was a foreshadowing of things to come.”
“Mmm. You said, ‘Just for that, I’m not going to make it quick.’”
“And then you reached up and moved your hair aside…that incredible black sheen of curls…” Guin reached out and picked up a long, curling lock to slide it between his fingers. “You bared your throat to me. You even lifted your goddamn chin. I still can’t describe what that did to me.”
“You grabbed me by my throat and shook me like I had no sense in me. Demanding to know what in Light was wrong with me. Didn’t I have any sense of self-preservation?”
“And you said yes, you did.”
“But you aren’t going to kill me.”
Guin smiled. “You were the most baffling creature I’d ever encountered. You knew when where how and why I was coming there, but you were convinced I wouldn’t do what I’d been hired to do. I couldn’t understand. It was so remarkable to me how someone so young could be so confident and utterly fearless. I knew the most brutal men, and any one of them would have pissed themselves with fear had they seen me coming for them.
“My mistake,” he continued, “was in talking to you. But you infuriated me and I wanted you to be afraid.”
“Yes. You were such a bully. I should have known it was a foreshadowing of things to come.” Malaya’s eyes sparkled with mischievous humor.
“But none of it touched you. And then you went all curious on me. ‘Why did you become an assassin? Was this what you wanted to be as a boy? How many people have you killed? Who is the most famous person you ever killed?’” He chuckled. “I almost did kill you just to shut you up.”
“And then the critical question…”
“Yes. ‘Wouldn’t you much rather do good things with your life?’ You said that Drenna had told you…” He stopped and looked away. It always felt the same, every time he remembered it. “How you knew what to say, you’ve never told me, but you said that ‘Drenna said that your mother would be so disappointed that you didn’t become a good and sterling man.’ You even said it—‘a good and sterling man’—exactly like she’d always done it, the same inflection…the same cadence. You blew a hole through me. And then you leaned forward and said, ‘I’ll make you a good and sterling man.’”
“And you’ve loved me ever since!” She laughed.
“Aye, my honey, that I have,” he agreed somberly. “Though I’m quite sure you don’t have a sense of self-preservation.”
“That might be true.” She slid forward toward him, leaning in close enough to cloud him in her scent. “You say you have no faith, but it seems to me you found faith fifty years ago. Even if it is just in me. If you have faith in me, then you have it in the things that hold my faith by association.”
“Always trying to redeem me.” He chuckled.
“Maybe I just want to be worshipped,” she returned.
Guin had no comeback for that. His knee-jerk response in his mind was the desire to fall to his knees before her and do exactly that. Oh gods, to make an altar of her would truly be a blessed thing. And just the way she had said it, with those sly, beautiful eyes, it was so like an invitation.
“Tell me, Guin, why have you never brought a woman here?”
The question hit as if she’d smacked him. He lurched to his feet.
“K’yatsume,” he scolded.
She quickly followed him as he tried to pace away from her.
“Seriously, Guin. In all the time I’ve known you I’ve never seen you take a woman to your bed. It makes me curious.”
“Your curiosity always gives me ulcers!” he snapped over his shoulder at her. But he quickly ran out of flooring and had to turn around. She was in his face instantly.
“It’s a simple query. Surely you can answer it. Unless…are you homosexual, Guin?” Before he could explode over that, she dismissed it. “Mmm, no. I haven’t seen you bring a man to your bed either.”
“Gods, girl! What do you care either way? There is no importance to this topic and I won’t discuss it.”
“I’m going to wring your scrawny little neck,” he growled into her face.
“Well, if you’d just tell me I wouldn’t have to guess.”
“Fine! Heterosexual, not impotent, and why drag some tart all the way here when any empty corner will do!”
“Ouch. That’s rather cold of you. It can’t be much fun.”
“It serves a need and that’s the end of it. Why are we still talking about this?”
“Whose need? Just yours?”
“Damn it, Malaya!”
“I want to know if you’re a considerate lover, Guin.”
“Why, are you holding auditions?” he barked furiously into her face.
Malaya was tempted to say yes and see what would happen. She was fascinated by what she was seeing. His temper. He used it to keep a distance. Her questions disturbed him, but why? Theirs was an open society when it came to these things. For gods’ sake, he’d stood by and seen…
Malaya felt her heart seize as she realized the magnitude of what he’d tolerated. How painful a torture must it have been to watch a person you wanted for yourself have sex with someone else? Every detail! Every…
Why? Why would he do that? Didn’t he “crave” her enough to fight for his place in her bed?
No, that wasn’t fair. There were other issues to deal with. He was just doing what he always did. His job. And being utterly loyal to her and what would make her happy.
Malaya turned suddenly and walked away from him, her fingertips to her temple as her head spun with information and realizations. Maybe he had the right idea. Maybe she shouldn’t touch the status quo. But how would it hurt either of them now? And now that she was recognizing the possibilities, could she let him walk out of her life without ever tapping the fiery potential that churned between them?
“Will you watch me dance tonight?” she asked suddenly. She knew the question was ridiculous, but she waited for his response.