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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You mean my wishes for a husband and family?” Rika smiled wistfully as she petted her friend’s hair. “Those are sweet dreams. And who knows, maybe I will find them in the place where I am going. That’s the beauty of knowing there are many ’scapes and dimensions full of all kinds of possibilities. I can imagine whatever I want beyond my death. It can be quite entertaining at times. The only grief is how much I will miss you.”
“Please,” Laya whispered, “don’t make me think of this now. We have time yet and…I am already torn in two without my Guin.”
“I know. But don’t worry, he is still in the city.”
Rika’s third power. The delicate vizier had a locus ability. She could find the location of anyone she was familiar with so long as they were in the same ’scape with her.
“Where? Tell me where he is so I can go after him and wring his stubborn neck,” Malaya hissed.
“More like you need to give him a tumble he’ll never forget,” Rika retorted cheekily. “That will keep him close for a while.”
“Well, I already tried that,” the Chancellor said with a wry chuckle. “It had the opposite effect.”
“Perhaps that is because you didn’t do it correctly.”
“Rika, I think I know how to treat a man in bed,” she scoffed.
“Do you? Do you mean any man, or do you mean Guin?”
“What is the difference? Guin is a man like any other when it comes to that.”
“Not for you, K’yatsume. How is it you can see how extraordinary he is in everything else, but when it comes to a matter of intimacy you refuse to see past a certain point? Why have you blinded yourself like this? Why would Guin be any less exceptional as your lover than he is in everything else? You place him above everyone in trust and honesty, you have utter faith in his strength and skills, and you call him the very best of friends and advisors. He has spent most of your life protecting you, Malaya. You have seen how he does it. Why is it you can’t see who he is protecting now?”
“He wants to protect Ashla from her fate. And it’s very noble of him, but—”
Rika shook her head and sighed.
“No, K’yatsume, no. Guin is protecting himself. And I will pray that one day you will be able to open the sealed place inside you that will make you figure out why.”
“Why can’t you just tell me?” Malaya cried in frustration. “Why can’t he?”
“Because he knows, just as I know, that the understanding will have no value to you until you come to it on your own. Drenna is dangling a lesson before you that you need very badly to learn. I’ll not help you cheat to get the answers. Not this time.”
Frustrated beyond any further words, and now pissy besides because she felt like Rika was treating her like a simpleminded child, she exited the vizier’s room with a huff of disgust.
Rika sighed and whispered very softly to herself, “I know exactly how you feel.”
Magnus was keeping a guard at the door of his quarters until Acadian was caught and destroyed. She might not have broken any laws that could be proven in their courts, but religious law was very different from common law and it was very specific. No one may use Dreamscape for harmful or selfish purposes. It was one of their worst sins. And that gave Magnus the right to seek penance from her. He could hunt her as a Sinner and put her on her knees and demand she repent her many, many sins. If she did not do so, he could exact final judgment. Oh, how often he took comfort in the knowledge that a woman like that would never repent. That promised her neck to his katana, and all he had to do was make certain he did not give in to the temptation to do a botched job of it. Wanting her to suffer as cruelly as she had made Dae suffer was all he could think about sometimes, and for once in his long career the priest could not feel pity for a soul and give it forgiveness in his heart.
Not when the precious woman he loved, the woman who he’d known as too tough to cry, had not stopped doing so for days. Not when Acadian had been the one to force his child into Drenna’s arms so prematurely…before he’d even had a chance to know it.
Magnus walked into the rooms he shared with his handmaiden, crossing through her room and the bath to reach his room and his bed, where she lay very quiet, her gaze fixed on nothing important and her spirit so defeated he could feel it. He came to her, sitting close beside her on the bed, and reached to stroke a loving touch against her cheek.
“Did you sleep?” he asked, already knowing the answer. She wouldn’t voluntarily go to sleep. Only utter exhaustion could push her to it. She dreaded her vulnerability to Dreamscape, and it sickened him to know that it was his job to see to it innocent dreamers were safe from such influences and he was failing at it miserably.
But he couldn’t hunt Acadian until he was aware of her presence in the ’scape once again. Only then would he be able to dog her down to her knees and find out who she really was. Her anonymity protected her in all other ’scapes, but all she need do was toy with the power of Dreamscape the littlest bit and he would feel it. Now that he was alerted to watch out for it, he would feel it. That instinct was what distinguished a penance priest from all other priests. Learning to sense on that level was a difficult skill to master.
“Tell me you ate something, at least,” he prodded her.
“A little something. Something warm and brown. A stew, I suppose.”
“Good. That’s good, K’yindara. You are still very pale.” And considering the normal cappuccino coloring of her skin, pale was an alarming shade. She had lost a great deal of blood with the miscarriage. Her disinterest in even the smallest tasks that would restore her health wasn’t helping her racial ability to heal quickly. Retarded by poor nutrition, no sleep, and the pall of depression, it was as if she could hardly heal herself at all.
“Chancellor Malaya asked to come see you again. I told her I would see how you were feeling.”
“No. I can’t.” Dae’s eyes turned wet instantly as she finally turned to face him. “I am not ready for her solace and her words of faith about where my child has gone. I know where my child has gone. I saw it spread in bright red across our sheets. She will try to tell me otherwise and I don’t think I could bear it.”
“Daenaira, I don’t think she will do that. She just wants to be a friend and give you company and comfort. She wouldn’t come here to preach the tenets of death to you. I think she knows well enough just how aware of the nature of death you are right now.”
“Magnus, please.” She sat up and slid into his embrace, her head resting on him as she hugged him with weak arms. “I just want it all to go away. I want to wake up from this and let it just be a nightmare. I want us to go back to being happy, in love and able to conquer anything.”
“Baby, we are still in love and able to conquer anything, even this terrible unhappiness,” he said as he placed gentle kisses in her hair at the top of her head.
“How can you continue to love me when you know this is all my fault?” she asked him, painful sobs punctuating every word.
“This isn’t your fault, Dae! Why in Light would you think that?”
“She came after me for killing Nicoya! It’s because I did that which put our baby in danger.”
“Stop it. There is no one to blame save Acadian. It is her twisted path that we crossed and gave her notice of us. The gods will see her pay for all she has done, and I pray they will use me to do it. There was no choice but to kill Nicoya. She was as poisoned as her mother, and the infection almost took over this entire institution. You saved hundreds of lives and futures by doing what you had to do.”
“And destroyed the life and future of our baby in the process.”
“And where is your blame for me?” he demanded suddenly. “I’m the one who slept soundly beside you while she was force-feeding you that toxin and dropping poisoned poetry onto your body! And the way I crowed in front of everyone about the child. I should have realized the pregnancy would make you an ideal target for revenge. Had I kept quiet…”
“It would hardly have been a secret in a few more months,” she scolded, hugging him again. “Also, between your lectures, your hunt for the Sinner you found, and making love to me for hours, you were exhausted that morning. How could you expect to hear anything?” She sighed. “You’re right. It’s useless to play the blame game. It just allows her to keep hurting us, and I won’t give her that power.”
“Does that mean you will eat better and try to sleep? If you want, I will Fade into Dreamscape and watch over you. Even if just for a few hours.”
“Okay,” she acquiesced. “I need to get well again. When that murderous witch comes back, I want to be ready for her. What I did to her daughter is nothing compared to what I will do to her.”
Guin sat back, but he was far from relaxed as he sat in the small tavern that catered to some of the deepest parts of the Shadowdweller city. He had a beer in front of him, and he toyed with the glass while his other hand lay against the scabbard of his sword just beneath the hilt. Over the past few days he’d come there a lot. He had been surprised at first that no one recognized him, but then he had remembered just how far from the pageantry and core government places like this were. You could live your entire life in the bowels of their city and never once see the faces of the Chancellors, never mind their nondescript guards. He had laughed at himself for his own self-importance and then slowly tried to settle into a new routine that had nothing to do with staying alert at all times for the benefit of a beautiful woman.
To say he worried about her was an understatement. Even a week later he was incredibly obsessed with who was watching over her and if they were doing a good enough job of it. He tried telling himself it was no longer his responsibility, but it never worked. He knew that if the slightest harm came to her, he would never be able to forgive himself. So how was he supposed to cut himself free of that? How was he supposed to gouge out fifty years’ worth of ridiculous infatuation with a woman he was now convinced was completely incapable of understanding the kind of love that consumed him? If she had understood it, then she would never have let the Senate coax her into settling for less. Perhaps his only advantage in her ignorance was that her lack of knowledge had kept her from seeing that emotion inside him.
He briefly closed his eyes. It was a mistake whenever he did. Instantly he would find himself drowned in sensory memory of how she had felt against him and how it had felt to finally be joined with her body. But as glorious as it had all been, as addictive as it could have become, he realized now that he could not take only half measures. He was not that kind of man. He had always done anything of importance with full bearing and total commitment. To make love to Malaya without being able to express what he felt for her was like being bound up in a full-body condom. You could feel enough to take the edge off, but it deadened the full experience.
When Guin opened his eyes, a man was sitting in the chair across from him. He smiled like a wolf when he saw the leanly built male who was dressed all in black. His short, straight hair and amber-colored eyes gave him a neat but anonymous sort of appearance. Guin supposed he was good-looking enough, except perhaps for the scar running around the side of his throat. It wasn’t easy to scar the quick-healing Shadowdwellers, but if the cut went deep enough or was repetitive, it could happen. He knew the scar he was looking at had almost cost the man his life.
“I was wondering when you were going to show up,” Guin drawled, not at all disturbed that he hadn’t even been aware of his arrival. “How are you, Talon?”
“Well enough, I suppose. So”—he narrowed hard eyes on Guin—“what brings you back again so soon? Barely a word from you in decades, and now you’re practically living here.”
“I am living here,” Guin informed quietly.
Talon leaned forward in his seat at that bit of news.
“Finally grew bored with the pretty princess, did you? Took you long enough, didn’t it? Tell me, are the rumors true about you and her? Did you get to dip into that regal little—”
Talon cut himself off when he felt the sharp stab of Guin’s dagger in his thigh under the table, just enough to puncture the cloth of his pants, but not enough to break his skin. It took skill to be so precise. It was nice to know Guin hadn’t lost his touch.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Talon mused with a grin. “So the real question becomes ‘Why did you leave?’ but news travels fast and even we have heard of her marriage-to-be. I guess that would phase out any old lovers around the palace. Wouldn’t do to have them all around her when the new husband comes about. So did she fire you or did you walk out?”
“I walked out,” Guin said through his teeth, “and it would behoove you and that uncanny mental diving rod you call a brain to shut the hell up about it before I go digging for your femoral artery.”
“Good. Glad you had the pride to take yourself away. Good to see that hasn’t changed. It’s been hard to read you since you crossed to the lawful side of the night. And a lot has happened since then.”
“Yet you seem the same, Talon,” Guin said. “Far too chatty for your own good. It always amazed me how you could manage to keep quiet enough to do your jobs. Did you ever talk a mark to death? Just curious.”
“Not to death. But I once had an excellent conversation with this unfaithful husband who, as he found out upon my arrival, had been discovered by his wife. At first he tried to convince me that infidelity was not a crime deserving of capital punishment. Sound arguments, good debater,” Talon mused.