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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“I want to know what you are doing! With me! You knew you were going to do this. You’ve probably known it for weeks, haven’t you? And maybe you didn’t know how much time you had to work with so instead of starting from scratch you figured you might as well stick close to home and work on familiar territory. Isn’t that right?”
“Guin, you aren’t making any sense!” she railed at him.
“Okay, try this…I’m the last fling, aren’t I? You wanted something hot and dirty in your bed fucking you until you had to trade yourself away for favors like a whore, didn’t you? Gods, and I fell right into it, didn’t I? You must have been so fucking delighted to realize I had the hots for you. How much easier did that make all of this?”
“That is the most ridiculous and asinine thing I have ever heard you say! Do you really think I am capable of something so coldly calculating?”
“Yes, Malaya,” he hissed. “You can manipulate your fate like no one I know, and what you want, you make happen. Maybe you don’t even realize what you are doing, because I know you would never intentionally set out to hurt someone, but gods…Damn you, Malaya, this time you don’t have any idea what you’ve done!”
“Then tell me! Guin, I’m floundering in confusion here! Even if what you say is true, what’s so wrong with you and me spending this time as lovers before I am wed? Don’t you want me like that?”
“No. Not like that! Not like any of this! Gods, I have to get out of this place. I have to get away from you!” He whipped away from her, storming into his room and grabbing up a large duffel bag as he passed it. “Just go find your fucking list of names, K’yatsume, and start choosing. How long did they give you, anyway?”
“A year,” she said automatically, her confusion so vast it was overwhelming. She didn’t understand why he was so damn upset! He had to have known this was the way it was going to have to be. She couldn’t figure out why it was so important to him that she not have an arranged marriage. “Guin, please talk to me. Don’t do that!” she cried when she realized he was packing his things into that bag. He had always been able to keep his life packed into two bags. One for his belongings, the other for his weaponry. She knew it wouldn’t take long for him to finish what he was doing.
“Get off me. Drenna, I can’t believe you’ve done this. I can’t…” He stopped speaking, almost as if he couldn’t say anything because he had lost his voice. She moved around the bed, climbing onto it and crawling across it so he was forced to look at her as he shoved his clothes quickly away.
“Guin, tell me what you want from me! I’m willing to be with you as long as possible. You need to know I wasn’t just looking to pass the week with you. I wouldn’t have started this for so little an appetite. It wouldn’t have been worth the risk. I want you to stay! We have a whole year!”
“Please…” he said, stopping suddenly as his voice turned hoarse. “Please stop talking and go away. If you have even the smallest speck of love for me…please let me go.”
“It’s because I love you that I won’t let you go!”
Guin suddenly roared in fury, throwing the bag away from between them as he dropped a knee on the bed and grabbed her by both arms.
“Oh, how easily you throw those words away! You love me, Tristan, and Rika. You love your people and your life and your gods. You love every speck of dust and every wayward breeze! And it doesn’t surprise me if you really could. I honestly and truly believe if anyone has the heart for it all, it’s you. But I don’t want to be another speck of dust or another wayward breeze in your life, Malaya. I haven’t the strength anymore. You ask too much of me and I know…gods, do I know you have no idea that you do, but trust me when I tell you, you ask too much of me!” He pushed free of her and went for his bag. “Now I’m going to go and find these assassins who hunt for Ashla so no other man has to watch the woman he loves be torn away from him. Someone, at least, can be saved from all of this.”
“No! I won’t let you go!” she cried, grabbing hold of him and throwing all of her weight back against his progress.
“You have no choice!”
“I’m your queen, goddamn you, and you won’t leave until I tell you to!”
That made Guin stop. Malaya never took the name of god in vain. It at least deserved his attention that she had.
“I don’t see how you can stop me.”
“I will have you thrown in a cell if I have to! You aren’t leaving, Guin. I need you here. I need your protection. I’ve only just begun to learn how to need you as a lover. You can’t just walk away like this! I thought you were my friend!”
Guin turned to look at her, making sure he looked her dead in the eyes.
“Not anymore,” he said.
He took advantage of her shock to walk out the door.
Acadian was so happy she could barely keep her feet on the ground.
Guin was gone!
Of all the people surrounding the twins, Guin was the one she found the most unpredictable. Frankly, she had no idea why he was where he was in the first place. Or rather, where he had been. Trustworthy rumor had it that he had once been one of the deadliest assassins of all those assassin clans. How he had ended up the most trusted individual in the royal enclave was the most arcane of mysteries. Firstly, why would he even want to be there surrounded by all those goody-goody vibes and that sickeningly tiresome woman in the first place? And why would Tristan trust his precious sister to such a character?
But now there had been some sort of blowup, a crisis in their relationship right after the incident at the committee meeting. Talk about an unexpected bonus! What a satisfying day. She had to admit, Guin was smarter than she gave him credit for. He’d gotten Magnus’s bitch out of that trap far too easily. She would have to be more creative next time. However, it had been amusing to watch the priest go off to save his woman, not realizing that when she’d left her first little poem behind she’d also fed the comatose handmaiden the potion that had expelled the child from her body. She wished he would figure that part out soon. It would be one more twist of an already torturous knife in his fool heart.
Despite the clever rescue, Acadian was content in knowing that Daenaira and Magnus both had survived to be tormented another time. If they thought they were getting off for their crime against her that easily, they were sorely wrong. But she suspected they would be quite afraid of her next move for a very long time. Especially Daenaira. A woman didn’t get over the loss of a child easily. Not even the brassy little handmaiden. She also wondered if Magnus would lower himself from his mighty principles and go chasing after a half dozen or more Senators in order to force the truth of their identity from them as he searched for the dreaded Acadian. That could be amusing. Very amusing.
She might miss Guin. That stunt at the committee meeting had been priceless. He’d been tied up in knots, and like a pitbull chained just short of his prey, he’d been yanked back by his mistress. Poor, poor doggie. But he had been one tough dog who’d been hard to figure out. He had no personal life whatsoever. No family. No friends. All he did was work. He had no vices to be tempted with and no weaknesses she could exploit. It had been the most baffling thing to her.
But when he had reacted in the Senate so strongly to the law being imposed on his mistress, Acadian had realized that his weakness had been standing right in front of her all of this time. He cared about what happened to his mistress a bit more than would be expected for a common servant. That fierce anger had been about more than his infamous loyalty. And where was that loyalty now? Now that he had left his mistress alone and unprotected?
Guin had been gone for four days, and Malaya was beside herself without him and so upset about how and why he had left that she could barely concentrate and couldn’t sleep.
How could he have thought she was just using him? As if she had purposely planned to be involved with him until the marriage she had agreed to on Monday, when she had passed the new law that faithfully honored an old tradition. She sat at her desk, toying with the corner of the list of names she’d been given by the Senate. They had been right. Every name was from old, powerful blood and many had fought her ascendancy tooth and nail during the war. Most were former clan leaders, or their heirs, many of whom had become Senators at the change of the regime so they would feel they still had a say in how they lived their lives. It had made the turnover much more peaceful in the end.
And now her former enemies wanted to wed and bed her and get her with child. In that respect she could understand Guin’s disgust. And it wasn’t as if large parts of her weren’t rebelling against this entire thing! He made it seem like she’d done it without a second thought! And maybe she had thought he would be an excellent final affair before all this marriage business came to pass, but what was so wrong with that? It wasn’t as if she’d schemed the idea beginning to end. It had been an incidental understanding. She had thought he had wanted to be with her!
Instead, he had left her. By the way it felt, quite possibly he had left for good. How could he abandon her so easily after fifty years? And just when they were getting to know one another in such a wondrous physical dimension!
Damn him, what was so wrong with that?
Malaya shoved aside the list. She knew every name on it by heart by now anyway. There were fifteen, and of those fifteen there were only five she could stomach the idea of living in close quarters with. Of those five…none of them appealed to her sexually. How could they when they had Guin’s recent shadow overpowering them?
The Chancellor stood up and paced her office, ignoring her brother as he glanced up at her from his desk across the room. Biting her lip, she made herself move to burn the restless energy that consumed her constantly. The worst part about it had been when she’d realized it was because her body was craving Guin and what he could do to it. Then there was the silence because she had no one to argue with anymore and only people who said “Yes, K’yatsume” and “You are right as always, K’yatsume” all around her now. She’d even tried saying something completely ridiculous to see what they would say and it had not changed a whit!
Malaya grunted harshly in disgust, attracting Tristan’s attention once more. He was well aware of the turmoil his sibling had been in since Guin’s unexpected abandonment and he wasn’t surprised by either Guin’s disappearance or Malaya’s disturbance. He even thought he had a small suspicion about what was really going on between the two of them. He suspected he had more clarity of thought on the matter than his sister did. Still, he didn’t offer his opinion. There were just some things he knew he had to keep out of until he was invited in. All he knew was, despite Killian’s strength and skills, he would never be equal to Guin in devotion to his duty and ability to perform it. Frankly, he’d rather have Guin distracted in bed with his sister than no Guin at all. It was still better than the alternatives.
Not to mention it would probably calm his agitated sister down quite a bit.
He didn’t blame Guin for this show of rebellious temper. Tristan had been no happier with his sister’s bargain with the Senate than the bodyguard was. However, he had to admit, she had resolved the issue with stunning aplomb, leaving everyone satisfied and feeling they’d had a hand in what was happening. Letting them feel that power, or the illusion of it, would keep them happy for a long time. The only point of contention might be when she finally got around to choosing who her mate would be. Tristan would be thrice damned, though, before he’d let her take anyone he didn’t approve of as well. Malaya was too precious to be wasted on the wrong man.
Malaya suddenly left her office and walked briskly down the hall to the residence. She entered her sitting room and quickly made her way to Rika’s bedroom. With the briefest knock, she slipped inside the room and saw Rika sitting curled up in her bed. She was listening to music, one of few pleasures left to her and the easiest one on her constitution.
“Hello, Rika,” she greeted the vizier softly, reaching to lower the music as she came closer and sat on Rika’s bed with her. “How are you feeling?”
“You know,” Rika observed, “I think I am growing a little tired of that question. But I suppose it is only natural to ask that when speaking with someone who is dying.”
“Rika,” Malaya said, reprimand soft in her tone.
“What, K’yatsume? Am I lying? Or is it that it makes you uncomfortable to talk about my death? We have avoided the subject altogether for so long, and I recently have confronted myself with the understanding. After all, we both know no one has ever recovered from or survived Crush.” Rika turned her sightless eyes toward her. “But it’s okay, Malaya. I know you wish me to be dead.”
“Rika! I wish no such thing!” Malaya gasped.
“Yes, you do. I know you very well, K’yatsume. You kneel at your fountain altar and you pray for my quick and painless death. You pray that my soul goes into the Beyond because you have such faith that I will be greeted by Drenna and the comfort of eternal darkness. Sweet friend, why would I take offense that you do that when it is so pure and beautiful with your love for me? You make my faith in what lies in my future strengthen when you have so much faith in it.”
“Jei li,” Malaya said softly, wrapping her arms around Rika in a tight embrace. “I just want you to be free and happy. I’ve watched you lose so many things these past few years. After you have done so much for me to get me where I am, it hurts to see you robbed of the rewards life should be providing you after so much hard work.”