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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“It isn’t as though I will have something better to do,” he said wearily.
“I asked you if you will watch me dance.” Malaya turned to face him, her shoulders perfectly aligned to her hips and her posture elegantly exaggerated. “Watch me. Not the audience, the exits, and the servants. Not the musicians and everyone else you suspect may do me harm. Will you watch me dance?”
“I always watch you dance,” he said brusquely. “No one in a room with you can resist watching you as you dance. As striking as you are, the way you dance makes you exquisite.”
Malaya smiled when she felt how deeply meant the compliment was.
“Good. Because tonight I want you to know I am dancing just for you.” She shrugged it off like it was an afterthought, just to keep him thinking. “In honor of the night we first met. I am feeling sentimental.”
She walked out of the suite, leaving Guin to follow her as she headed back to the office she shared with her brother. The bodyguard struggled to comprehend just what Malaya was up to. One minute she was sweet and reminiscent, the next she was getting his back up asking ridiculous questions. Maybe normally it wouldn’t have gotten under his skin so easily, but it was really shitty timing and he had enough trouble keeping himself in line without listening to her talk about sex. Especially not quizzing him about his sex!
Luckily, he’d thought up a plausible lie quickly enough.
He wasn’t about to tell her the truth.
“Aiya. I take it we’re not in a conservative mood tonight.” Tristan chuckled softly when his sister bowed elegantly at his feet. She lifted her eyes to his and winked, the gesture full of some kind of mischief.
Tristan’s reference was to the dancing silks she had chosen to wear. Normally she would wear one of the fully flared skirts made of silk or satin, something that would float and fly along with her body, yet maintain a measure of conservative satisfaction. The most daring he’d ever seen her get was to wear a bolero without a blouse and the skirt without the paj worn underneath it.
But tonight she had adorned her perfect body in the silks of the k’hutra dancers. They were very like a modern belly dancer’s veils, except these veils were each tied directly onto the dancer’s body. One poorly tied knot and she would be dancing in the nude. She may as well have been, Tristan mused. The silks were quite transparent. Had they not been purest black, shimmering like her hair, she would have had no modesty for claim. It was very unlike her, and it made her twin curious about what she was up to. Fortunately, the company was intimate friends, all trusted and close. Otherwise he would not have been so easy about her daring costume.
The room was encircled with low couches and pillows along the floor. The furniture curved around the central wooden floor she would use for her dance. The arrangement was cozy and casual, almost as if they were all lounging in one large bed together as they watched Malaya glide to the center of the floor after making obeisance to her brother. Tristan relaxed back into his pillows and someone handed him a cup of wine as the musicians began to play soft jingling tones.
Malaya’s body began to agitate softly, as if she were the one causing the jingling sound. She stopped and the bells stopped. She wriggled and bells shimmered until she stopped. She lifted a long leg and shook her foot to the sound of a high-pitched bell. She abruptly froze and the bells ceased once more. She winked at her guests and continued to ring her body until they were laughing at the antics of the different pitches for different anatomy. But soon she discarded humor for the serious flow of a dance, and the bells began to chime a perfect cadence to the athletic glides and stretches of her body.
Guin stood back in the darkest corner of the room, his heart thrashing hard against his ribs, just as it had been since the moment she’d walked out of her dressing room wearing nothing but strands of cobwebbing. He’d held his breath, waiting for Tristan to protest her blatant costume, but apparently her brother had decided the group was intimate enough to let her get away with it.
Guin strongly felt otherwise.
So what if it was only Trace, Ashla, Magnus, Daenaira, Tristan, Xenia, and himself? It was scandalous, and everyone could see so much of her body! Gods, as those scarves lifted and floated in her dance he saw more and more of that cocoa skin. Somehow it seemed ten times as decadent as seeing her fully nude in her bath. Well, of course! Because those artfully tied knots were cruelly inviting him—or anyone watching, he added in rough haste—to pull them apart and unwrap her like a frothy little gift.
It was all he could do to look away. The only way he managed it was by reminding himself that his lax attention to the environs around them could mean her coming to harm. He tried to breathe, tried to focus. Focus, he then realized, was all too easy. He was wholly focused, on the curving, swirling dancer in the center of the room.
Not any longer. Now she was gliding in his direction, chiming music following her as she leapt over the couching right between Magnus and Dae. The brilliant jeté cleared the distance with ease and brought her directly in front of him. She did a pirouette, fast and fierce, her hair flying against him even as it wrapped around her. She came to an abrupt stop with her back to his chest, leaned back until she was flush against him and pouring out the heat of her active body all over him. Guin went rigid from head to toe as her graceful arms swept up and her hands touched to his face, then went sliding down his neck until she’d coasted over his shoulders. Meanwhile, her body rotated into his, the sweet curve of her backside rubbing intimately against his fly. Her whole body turned into liquid sensuality, slipping down against his. Guin reached to clasp his sword hard in his hand, the grip ferocious as he used the feel of the thing to remind himself not to touch her. Unfortunately, he had less recourse when it came to controlling the rest of his body. He thanked the gods for denim and the hard leather of his belt. Between the two she wouldn’t know how hard and heavy his cock was becoming for her.
At least that was what he had anticipated. He did not, however, anticipate the way she stealthily slid her hands between his body and hers on her way back up his length, her hands suddenly running up the insides of his thighs and then…
Malaya felt the jolt that rocketed through her brick wall of a bodyguard as she surreptitiously filled her hands with him. Then in a flash she was gone and was dancing for Magnus…although not anywhere near as intimately. Her skin was hot and slick with her exertions, but she could swear her heart was crashing around inside of her just from the illicit feel of Guin in her hands. She could barely focus on her steps and movements as she shook out fingers that burned intimate information about him into her. He had been so aroused! Just from a few moment’s flirtation, and only an innocent flirtation…up until the very end. Her whole body itched with the desire to return to him, to spend more time teasing and tantalizing him until he dragged her away by her hair. She knew that was the way it would be when he finally broke for her.
But she wasn’t out to embarrass him or make him the obvious target of the evening. After all, he’d forced her to awaken to her knowledge of his cravings all on her own, and she would do the exact same thing to him.
Except she was going to be much more obvious about it. She had a feeling she was going to have to be. Guin could be just as bullheaded as she was sometimes.
Guin left Malaya.
He had to. He left her in a room full of trusted friends who were fine warriors and would defend her with their all if need be, but with or without them, he couldn’t stand there another instant and watch the obscenely torturous display of Malaya in her glory. Not after what she’d done to him. Guin couldn’t make himself breathe properly. He had to stop around the nearest corner, leaning against the wall, supported by his palms and forehead as he drew hard for breath. His whole body was racked with tremors of repressed need and he felt painful emotion stinging down his throat and behind his eyes.
“Enough,” he rasped aloud to himself as he squeezed his eyes tightly shut. “Enough, now, you stupid bastard.”
He heard a sound and his eyes flew open just as a young woman passed near him. She looked at him curiously but pretended to mind her own business as she moved on. Suddenly he turned on her, grabbing hold of her arm and pinning her to the wall with a jolt.
“Your name,” he demanded of her, rapidly turning her away to face the wall so all he could see of her was the black fall of her hair. She made small gasps with each rough maneuver he subjected her to.
“Elysa,” she said, “I’m supposed to be here, Ajai Guin.”
“You mistake me, pretty one,” he said roughly against her hair as he drew up tightly against her. She was the right height, though not as fit. Her hair was black, but mostly straight. Still, she would do for his needs. “I’m not looking to detain you in the way you think.”
His hands fell to her hips and he closed his eyes as he drew her back into his hard and aching body. The image of the woman he wanted swam into his mind.
“Say no, if you will,” he warned her, letting his hands ride across her belly. He knew she couldn’t mistake him. She knew what it was he needed.
“I won’t,” she gasped.
“Then do as I say. Don’t speak. Don’t turn to me. And most of all, forget this as soon as it’s done. Do you accept those terms?”
“Good.” Guin ran his hands down her arms and drew them up to pin her wrists in his hand above her head. The servant’s sari defied his imagination, so he closed his eyes again. He drew forth the image of mocha skin and teasing scraps of knotted silk. He groaned at the mere thought of her, his heartbeat turning fitful. The warm body against him was soft and welcoming, and he reached for the buckle of his belt quickly.
As he did this, he lowered his face into her hair and naturally took a breath in. The scent of peppermint filled his senses and he froze into total stillness. The fantasy he was trying to hold shattered with every ease and he knew…
…just as he had always known…
No matter how desperate—no matter how insane with need—he couldn’t touch another woman. She would always smell wrong, feel wrong, sound wrong. The only benefit this woman provided was the nearly instant curative to his state of arousal. Like a cold deluge, he was drained of all desire to slake himself of his body’s lustful needs. Guin let go of the woman and backed away until he hit the opposite wall, his whole being numb and pained. Contrary to his orders, Elysa turned to peek at him. Tears of frustration burned into his eyes and he turned away.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could say to her. “This was wrong of me…and you deserve better, Elysa.”
“I’m sorry I’m not what you need, Ajai Guin,” she said with soft sympathy. “You are a good man,” she added just before she hurried away from him.
A good man. A good and sterling man.
He laughed at the obscenity of the thought, the sound raw in his throat. That was perhaps the best trick ever played in his trade. The very best of disguises. Somehow, he’d made everyone believe he was a good man.
They couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Malaya paced her sitting room nervously, the fabric of her k’jeet swirling as she raced through her circuit, nibbling on a nail in her agitation.
Where has he gone? Had she been wrong and now he was reluctant to face her? Had she pushed too hard? Had he left her as he had threatened? For good? What if she had chased him down into that underworld he’d been birthed from and now he was hunting killers and baby murderers?
“K’yatsume, is there something I can—?”
“No, Killian, and do not ask me again,” she commanded the guard standing in Guin’s stead. All she could do, she realized, was pray to Drenna for his safe and quick return. But would that keep her on her knees forever? So what if it did? There was no other like Guin in all of the world, and if anyone deserved devotions it was him. Malaya whirled to face the small fountain that was running with almost perfect silence. It was set into the wall just across from Guin’s room. She knelt down on the soft woven pillow, the beads at its edges making a clackety sound against the stone flooring.
Instead of praying as she had meant to do, the sound attracted her attention to the wonderful beadwork that had been woven into the fringe. She reached to touch it, remembering how she and Rika had worked opposite sides of it, spending hours with their heads bent as they gossiped and tried to outscheme the political schemers. Guin would often sit nearby just watching them, sometimes telling them they were like little hens nattering away at each other. When he got bored, he’d torment them with off-key limericks—most of which she believed he made up off the cuff—and laughed at their reactions.
It seemed like those times had vanished completely, as if she had neglected to appreciate it at the time and now she would pay dearly for taking a single instant of it for granted. Rika could no longer see to do the beading that she was so talented at, and Malaya couldn’t bring herself to do something Rika so loved in front of her when she couldn’t join in. Even if she had been able to see, Rika grew tired so quickly now. Malaya had barely seen the vizier today as she rested and conserved her strength for tomorrow’s Senate meeting.
It seemed the days of Guin’s easygoing humor had fled as well. When had he become so unhappy? What kind of friend was she that she didn’t notice until he was walking out the door? She had taken him for granted as well, like the air she breathed. It kept her alive, but she rarely gave it deep thought. Now, suddenly, she became aware of the passion he harbored and she expected him to snap to her bidding and her bed just because she finally woke up?
Gods, what kind of creature was she? Was she really so fiendishly selfish? The bitch he had accused her of being?