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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You won’t die,” Acadian breathed into her face, so close she was practically kissing Dae on her cheek, “unless your religious husband makes a mistake and kills you. Of course, there’s rather a high likelihood of that…oh, well, maybe you will die after all. But…what he doesn’t know, and what you will know, is that the instant he frees you from my little trap he will kill the child inside you. But maybe I’ll let you tell him that. Or maybe I won’t. I will see what kind of mood I am in. In the meanwhile, I believe I have a meeting to attend to. Our beauteous Chancellor is going to try and weasel her way out of an arranged marriage, but I think I can safely say I have secured the outcome otherwise. And once she chooses the man I have set in place for her—and she will choose him—that household will begin to fall fast and hard. Are you ready, little mother, to destroy your dear, beloved mate? I know I am.”
Magnus awoke to the queerest sensation that something wasn’t quite right. He listened for a while to the ambient sounds around him and whatever noise was occurring outside of their rooms. All he could really hear, however, was the deep and even breaths of the woman sleeping beside him.
Ah. That was it, he realized with a wry smile. Daenaira had gotten into the delightful habit of not only sleeping the entire morning in his bed, something she wasn’t required to do as she had a room and bed of her own, but she’d always be spread over his body in one way or another when they awoke. The absence of her weight felt wrong and displacing. No wonder he had woken up feeling the world wasn’t right. Despite their short time together, Daenaira had proven to be a fast addictive drug for both his body and his heart. Now she was going to bear him a child. It was a rare and precious thing between religious couples, and because of who he was, his child would be considered extraordinary in the eyes of their gods. While that was nice, he knew the child would be extraordinary in the eyes of its parents, and that was all it needed.
The thought made him turn to Dae, his hand automatically reaching for her belly and that discoloration around her navel that was irrefutable proof of the child to come. He was still so overwhelmed by all of this that he constantly felt the need to continuously touch her against the spot and reaffirm the realness of it all.
When he turned, Dae’s eyes were open and she was staring up at the ceiling. His fingers touched her tummy and the crinkling sound of paper fed back to him. Bemused, he withdrew the envelope on her tummy and looked down at her.
“What’s this?” he asked.
Dae didn’t even so much as blink.
“Dae? Daenaira?” Panic, raw and cold, bled into his voice as he turned sharply onto his knees and bent over her. “K’yindara? Sweetheart? Wake up.” He shook her gently, then increasingly harder. His heart began to thrash so hard against his ribs that his chest hurt. Or maybe that was because he knew in his heart how bad the situation was, long before he convinced his mind of it.
Guin awoke with a start when he felt frantic hands shaking him sharply. He opened his eyes to see Rika bent over him, her sallow coloring looking particularly bad.
“Rika? What’s wrong?”
“Tristan is coming for Malaya, that’s what’s wrong,” she hissed quickly. “If he finds her in here with you, he is going to hit the roof!”
Well, he’d been right. Rika had eventually figured things out from the night before. He wasn’t surprised, with all the noise they had made. In fact, he felt a little bad when he thought that her poor coloring might be from her poor level of rest.
But she was right about Tristan. The one thing he and Tristan had precisely in common was the issue of Malaya’s safety. Tristan would not be pleased to catch them trysting when he was supposed to be protecting her. Sitting up quickly, he moved Rika aside with one hand and hauled Malaya out of bed with the other. Still asleep and very cranky, Malaya tried to hit him for it.
“Come on, K’yatsume, you need to go to your own bed.”
“We’re still naked,” she mumbled irritably, protesting his use of her formal address.
“Not sure I should be glad I’m blind or not.” Rika chuckled.
Guin grinned at that and carried Malaya out of his room. He had just put her into her own bed when he heard the outer door open and the distinct ringing step that marked Tristan because of the coined anklet he wore when in comfort of the residence area. Guin stepped away from Malaya and closed his eyes. Drawing darkness into himself quickly, he Faded from Realscape and entered Shadowscape. Here was a duplicate world of the one he had just left, everything the same except the people in Realscape could not be seen or felt. Just a step out of phase, the dark realm of shadows allowed him to walk unseen back into his room so he could get dressed quickly in the clothes he had there.
He Unfaded, returning to Realscape, just as he recalled his clothes and Malaya’s torn k’jeet left scattered around the sitting room. Rika wouldn’t have seen them there unless she accidentally tripped over them, so she wouldn’t have removed them. Truthfully, it had been very wrong of him to forget such details. Besides Tristan, there were always servants about. It would be impossible to hide their affair completely or for long, unless he was extremely careful of the daily routines. But even things like Tristan coming in so early…Guin sighed. He might have done just as well by staying in bed naked and warm with her.
That bellow of temper rising from Tristan and the area of Malaya’s room did not bode well for a peaceful early evening. Guin leaned in the door frame of his room and waited for the Chancellor’s coming storm. Tristan did not disappoint or waste time. He strode out of Malaya’s room and headed for him with fury in his dark eyes. Since Tristan was built with that tall, athletic power just like his sister was, he made a fairly imposing presence that would have intimidated most men. But Guin wasn’t most men, and even Tristan realized that as he drew up short of his urge to punch Guin in the face, the desire for which was written all over his face.
“What in Light are you thinking?” Tristan spat at him.
Malaya flew out of her room, hot on her brother’s temperamental heels and just as angry as she tugged on a k’jeet for cover.
“Don’t you dare yell at him!” she demanded in a rising voice. “Who the hell do you think you are? My keeper? My censor?” She wedged herself between Guin and Tristan, shoving at her aggressive brother’s body. Because Tristan wasn’t easy to move either, she pushed herself back into Guin instead. Guin couldn’t help smiling softly at the feel of her, his hand reaching to steady her at her waist.
“I’m the final authority when it comes to your safety! We made a deal about that, Malaya. I hire and fire for you and you hire and fire for me so neither of us can run around under-protected!”
“Fine. If I’m in control of your security, then I’m putting extra guards on you. Now go ahead, fire Guin and we’ll both be miserable but we’ll both be safe.” She gestured to the man at her back by rapping her knuckles against his chest.
Tristan hesitated as he looked up at Guin’s placid expression.
“I don’t want to fire him; I want him to do his job. His job doesn’t include screwing you!”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Malaya snapped. “Does he look like a houri to you? But you tell me that of all the men in this city, who is it you would choose to be in my bed based on the matter of my safety alone? Hmm? Who better than Guin? He is completely loyal to me. He would never hurt me. I can finally make love with a man without a third person watching over me! So, now you have your terms, Tristan. Fire him or not, either way he will be in my bed until we decide otherwise. Not you!”
“I’m not trying to tell you who to bed, Laya,” he protested. He glanced at Guin. “And you both know I have the highest regard for Guin. He is by far Our most loyal servant and has proven his dedication to his job time and again, but he knows as well as I do that he cannot offer you protection when you are absorbing all of his attention. I’d like to think that he would pay you the attention that you deserve, with full focus and intent.”
Guin couldn’t see her flush, but he sure felt it. Her whole body shimmered with the heat of her reaction to her memories of how focused and intent he had been. It was so obvious that Tristan chuckled, relaxing as he laughed at her.
“Ah, so it’s like that, is it? But doesn’t that prove my point, Laya? And what will happen to your relationship when you grow tired of each other physically? Then we could lose Guin entirely and you will have ruined the best chance at protection that you have.”
“Why do you think I put off touching her for all these years?” Guin spoke up quietly. “But your sister and I have a long relationship with each other and we’ll figure that out with maturity and respect when the time comes. You can’t stop a flood once the dam is broken. I want her too much to be any good at my job unless I know now I can have her. You understand? And if you are afraid for her safety, you can appoint more coverage around her quarters. As for in the bedroom itself, I like to think I have her completely covered.” Guin met the Chancellor’s eyes directly. “I’ll never let anyone touch her. Even in our bed, it will be my body first they will have to get through.”
“Guin,” Malaya protested softly, just as she always did when he spoke of a violent end for himself in her service. She knew what his role was, but she hated to be reminded of just what it could be like if it reached its worst scenario. She leaned back into him, turning her face against him briefly in affection. He let himself trap her against his body by sliding a hand onto her belly and holding her tightly.
“Okay, okay,” Tristan relented with a sigh. “Fine. But none of this in public,” he warned sharply, indicating their affectionate stance. Guin tried not to bristle at the idea that Tristan didn’t think him good enough to present himself as her lover in public. “I want to see you focused on protecting her just like always. If your attention is affected by this, I will see it and I will resolve the matter. You understand?”
“I wasn’t planning on trotting him out on my arm, Tristan,” Malaya said with a sigh. “Guin knows his job and wouldn’t let anyone see us in public.”
“Servants will gossip. People will learn about this,” Tristan warned her.
“I don’t care,” she countered. “Let them tattle on about it. They’ve been accusing us of sleeping together on and off for the past ten years. You and Xenia as well. It won’t be given any more credence than usual.”
Guin didn’t pay attention to Tristan’s agreement. He was quietly absorbing the sting of their open attitudes about where he was placed among them and his value in the eyes of others as a choice in lovers for Malaya. But he had known all of this for himself. He was inappropriate and lowborn. Suffice it to say, he would never make the Senate’s list of worthy men for her to marry.
Marry? Hell, he didn’t even rate as a sexual partner. Not in their eyes. They all knew she was slumming, but he had to take satisfaction in the fact that she didn’t seem to care and was fighting for her right to bed him. He couldn’t care less about being seen in public as her lover. In fact, it was better that no one knew so they wouldn’t think he would become flawed in his protection of her, just as Tristan was assuming.
Rightfully assuming. Malaya did take all of his attention. And he would accept more help to guard her in the mornings when he was with her, but he would never accept a guard watching over them as they made love, which Tristan was just suggesting.
“Honestly, I can understand a need for recreation and relaxation. Let Killian take his role when you’re together.”
“No,” they chorused sharply. Then Malaya said, “If you took Xenia to bed, would you feel less protected?” The Chancellor shot Xenia an apologetic look for using her as an example of intimacy.
“He never seemed to,” Xenia drawled. Tristan stiffened and his neck and face flushed beneath his dark skin. Guin and Malaya both looked at her in shock as she gave them a cheeky lift of her brow. “What? Your brother is a fine lover. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that? We’ve toyed with one another on and off for years. We are old friends and old lovers and it never once affected us poorly. I just wanted you to know it is possible to shift between the two and still do our jobs. I also wanted to remind Tristan he was dancing too close to hypocrisy.”
“More like he was embracing it like a lover,” Malaya countered, her eyes narrowing on her brother sharply.
“Yeah, well…” Tristan cleared his throat. “I just want you safe, Laya. Is that so wrong? And if you’d known about Xenia before all of this”—he indicated Guin—“wouldn’t you have done the same thing? You’d have been upset and worried, too.”
“But I wouldn’t have infringed on your right to make the choice. I only would have asked you to add more guards. I would have trusted you to know what you were doing and what all of its ramifications might be.”
“That’s because you are a far better person than I am, Laya,” he said with a sigh. “How you can remain so fair and open-minded at times simply floors me.”
“You forget how often I am pigheaded and stubborn.” She laughed at him, moving forward to hug him tightly. “What is it with you men who insist on seeing me as something so perfect? If you could only remember my flaws you would not place me so high!”
“They are few and far between,” Guin said quietly at her back. Malaya turned and gave him a smile. The relaxed warmth of her entire expression had him returning the expression easily. Guin simply didn’t realize that he was a perfect mirror for that relaxation.