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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Someone has to be. As usual you’re doing a piss-poor job of it for yourself,” he whispered through his teeth and into her ear. He grabbed up her cloak from Fatima and the largely male crowd began to complain about her departure. Or maybe it was because he was covering up all of her sleek glamour and they didn’t want to let go of what they saw very little of in their home environment.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll come back.”
“Like hell you will,” Guin snapped.
She turned and looked coldly into his eyes, making him realize she was really quite sober. “I don’t see how you can stop me.”
She threw his own words into his face, pointing out coldly that he had abandoned all his responsibility to her. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t still bully with the best of them. He took strong hold of her and hurried her out of the tavern as she waved and called good-byes over her shoulder. Fatima trailed after them as Guin hustled Malaya silently along. Needing time to think how best to get her safely back home, he took her to the small rooms he had taken. With just a small living room, kitchen, and a bedroom, it wasn’t much to look at. Especially since the previous tenant had not been very kind to the space and Guin hadn’t thought much about furniture other than a bed big enough for his height and a chair in the living room.
Truthfully, he didn’t remember what to do with so much personal space. It seemed strangely complicated to him, being responsible for the appearance of his surroundings. He’d never cared about things like that. But it was serviceable enough, dry and private. Entering the front room, he made sure to lock the door very tightly in case someone had had the bright idea to follow them for more Malaya time. Then, leaving Fatima to her own devices in the front of the apartment, he hustled Malaya straight into the bedroom and shut the door behind them. He didn’t know why he bothered. He was pretty sure he’d be yelling his head off at her in two seconds.
“Don’t even start,” Malaya cut him off with a sharp insertion of her hand between them. “I don’t want to hear it and you certainly gave up all your rights to say it. You aren’t my guard anymore and, as you clearly noted, you aren’t even my friend. As I see it, that makes our relationship boil down to queen and subject.”
“Don’t you get smart with me, little brat,” he said on a low, fierce breath. “You want to throw my words up in my face because I hurt your feelings? Is that it? Is that why you came down here? So you could have the last word?”
“No! I came down here so I could bring you home!” she burst out. “You don’t belong down here anymore, Guin!”
“I know that. I’m only here to work on finding Ashla’s would-be killers. Then I’m leaving the city. Good thing, too, otherwise I’ve no doubt you’d follow me and harp on me every damn day.”
“Oh! You stubborn, beastly man!” she cried, running up against him and slamming both fists hard against his chest. “Don’t you get it? I need you to stop this! I need you with me!”
It was so hard to resist her when he could feel all of that vital fury and warm shapeliness up against him. When she was angry, her eyes lit with a fearsome fire that warned her target she would get her way or else. It made her so stunning that he felt his hard-won resolve begin to waver. But all he need do to shore it up was to remember her coming marriage.
“Don’t you get it?” he railed back at her. “Nothing you say or do is going to make me come back with you!”
“I’m not leaving here until you do.” She pulled her cloak free and dropped it on the lone chair in the room. She sat down on his bed with a flounce, crossed her legs and her arms, and fixed her position. “And when you leave here I will follow you then, too. I’ll be on you constantly, just like a lover.” She stood up abruptly after she said that, the amazing length of her body changing its language in all of an instant. She moved back into his personal space with the silkiest curving of her body, coming up against him all over again but her attitude change making all the difference to senses that were starved for her. “In fact, I think we should make that ‘exactly like a lover.’”
Malaya reached for him, touching her warm hands against his sides and absolutely ignoring the threat of his hands clamping down on her wrists.
“Go ahead. Break them off. Bully me, beat me, and you can even tie me down.” Guin stared at her as she made every one of those suggestions sound evocative somehow. She leaned in to kiss her warm mouth to the side of his neck, her hands sliding free of his to run over the ridges of his shoulders and to weave into his hair. “May as well make a use of me while I’m here.”
“You want to fuck, Malaya?” he snapped at her suddenly. “Fine. I’m game. What the hell. But if you think you can whore yourself out to get your way with me the way you bartered yourself to the Senate for that law, then you are going to be very disappointed. I’m not coming back with you.”
“I am not whoring myself out!” she exploded indignantly. “Stop saying that! Stop treating me like dirt for making a decision that was difficult enough without all of your dramatics on top of it! I want you to come back where you belong! I want you with me!”
“What for? Protection? Look at what you just did in that tavern. You don’t need protection, you could charm the most poisonous snake in the world right into your lap! You don’t need me, Laya.”
“Yes, I do!” she cried, her fingers clutching tightly into his hair and dragging him down against her mouth. Guin reached up and pried her off him, shoving her away.
“To play stud for a year? No thanks, babe. I’d rather stick hot needles in my eyes.”
She gaped at him in utter disbelief.
“You find me that repulsive?” she asked, the genuine shocked hurt in her voice so powerful it made him groan.
“No! That’s the point! Argh!” he gusted in frustration. “Look, you are never going to understand, so stop trying. Go home and don’t come back to me.”
“No. I won’t go without you.”
“You don’t need me! Why are you doing this? Why are you fighting so hard, Malaya? You make friends with every breath you take, you can train the best in guards. There is nothing about me you can’t easily replace!”
“I can’t replace you! I need you! I need my Guin. My Guin. My Guin!” She threw herself back against him, grabbing hold of him with all of her strength and this time refusing to be denied the kiss she wanted. Her heart was pounding in her desperation, every fiber of her being screaming at her that she could not fail in this. She couldn’t leave without him by her side. She couldn’t live without him by her side. Next to her. Inside her. Yes, deep inside where she could hold him forever. She could keep her best friend and her keen lover forever. She had to. She felt as if she would die if she didn’t. Why else would she chase him all over creation so relentlessly? She couldn’t breathe without him. He’d been hers for so long…no one else would ever do.
And as she took the taste of him onto her tongue, tears burned hot in her eyes. She knew then that if he refused her he would break her heart. Not just a little, but a great ripping and shredding of it as he walked away from her. Even the thought of it hurt so much she sobbed past the tightening of her throat. Guin drew back in surprise at the sound, and she desperately tried to stop him from leaving her mouth.
“Malaya, why are you doing this?” he asked in a fierce whisper as he clasped her tightly between his hands.
“Because I love you,” she whispered, all of her heart and soul pouring into the understanding.
Guin knew at once what she was saying. He understood instantly what was different this time from all the other times she had said it to him. He knew because he felt his entire emaciated spirit flush hot with exhilaration unlike anything he’d ever felt before.
And as much as he wanted to revel in that joy, he knew he couldn’t.
“No, my honey, no,” he said achingly, giving her a shake. “You can’t. Not me. You need to save your heart for someone worthy of it—”
“You are worthy of it! I just don’t know how I could ever be worthy of yours! How could I when I’ve been so blind? But I see it now.” She held his face in her hands and looked deep into his gaze. “I see why I’ve been causing you so much pain. I see back for years and am stunned to realize you’ve been in love with me all along. Through everything. The war, the men, the Senate…everything. How could you bear it all? Why didn’t you ever tell me? Why didn’t you ever take me?”
“For the same reason I can’t take you now, damn it! I’m no good for you, Malaya! You’re meant for someone better. Better blood, better past, better manners…just better! Not some killer with blood and roughness on his hands. Gods, you deserve…”
“You! I deserve you! I want you. I want the man who believes in me so much he would change his entire life for me. A man who wants so badly to be better than he is that he strives for honor with everything he has day after day! I want you, who can be my best friend, who can keep me safe, who tells me the truth no matter what. I want you, who knows when to set me in my place and who wouldn’t accept less than everything from me or for himself. You’ve wanted to love me for ages, and you’ve wanted me to love you, too. You say you’re not good enough, but you want it. And still you push it away because all you ever want is for me to be happy and you think you can’t do that, but you can! You can. You do! I’m so sorry I took so much for granted and I thought I could have you and everything you had to offer without ever investing my heart. I was so selfish and you were right to leave. But now I see. I feel. I won’t go back without you. I can’t. You’d break my heart.
“You can’t expect me to walk away and agree to never seeing you again. Never hearing your rough voice and the poetic punctuation you manage to put into a good ‘fuck me’?” Here her voice dropped to something seductively needy. “To never feel your arms around me like this again? To never taste your mouth? No. This time, you ask too much of me.” She was pulling him to her mouth once again, kissing him so deeply and so slowly that she made him groan against her slowly sweeping tongue. “My body has cried out for you every single minute of every day since you left me. It wonders where those hands are and why your beastly cock isn’t deep, deep inside where I need you. I crave you, Guin. Oh, how I crave you,” she whispered against his mouth. “Stay or go as you will, I’ll follow you either way. Nothing else will matter to me until I can convince you to love me freely like I want to love you.”
“Gods, Laya,” he rasped, emotion galloping through him, “you tempt me with my ultimate desire. So powerful a desire that I never let myself wish for it.” He held her tightly, squeezing the breath from her as he lifted her onto her toes and breathed deeply against her jasmine-scented skin. “But you’re too perfect for me. You’re too good for me. I’ve no faith, no path. I have nothing to offer you.”
“Offer me you, Guin. It’s the one thing you’ve withheld all of this time. Give me you. Give me all of you.”
“But the Senate,” he breathed roughly. “That law…”
“Say you love me, Guin, and I will proudly show them my choice and dare them to say you are not a worthy man. I resent you saying it and I will not tolerate it in them either. It’s all lies and foolishness. You have given everything and more to this monarchy. You helped to mold and make it right beside us. You will be mine, Guin, if you just say you love me and you will have me.”
Again, temptation in its finest glory. Here she was, offering him the world. Her world. Her hand, her side, and all rights to her. She was offering…
“Are you saying you’ll marry me, Malaya? That you’d want to bear my children and set them on the throne as your heirs? But you can’t—”
“Yes, I can. And you will father strong, beautiful children. I want your strong, beautiful babies, Guin. Tell me you love me.”
He stared at her dumbly for a long minute, and then he grabbed hold of her and crushed her to his body. The sound escaping him crossed between pain and endless hunger.
“Even if every man and woman in this city told me you weren’t good enough for me, Guin, I would know they were wrong. But they won’t. They won’t unless you show them that it’s what you feel. Don’t let them tell you who you are or what you can or cannot be. You have proven yourself a hero of epic proportions to those who know you and love you. To me. To me, the only one who should matter in this issue, Guin. Look at me. Look into me with that uncanny truth you have and tell me you cannot see the pride and the devotion I have here in my heart for you.”
He did exactly that and all he could find was the one clear and shining truth stamped all over her.
I love you.
“Oh gods,” he rasped, emotion choking him as he drew back from her, stumbling back awkwardly while he tried to shed her touch from himself. He was dizzy with need and bald yearning for what she was offering him. But he had to think…He had to see this clearly or…
Forever. She wanted forever. Him. It was him she was pushing after, him she was clinging to once again, and it was him she claimed she wanted above all others. Not as a friend, a brother, a confidant and protector, but all of that and more. She wanted to make him her…
Her king. Her mate. Her husband. She wanted to give him all rights to her and her body, mind, and soul. She was begging him for the one thing he’d been drowning in the ability to create for her since almost the minute he’d laid eyes on her. His love. His love for her. She wanted him to set the emotion free and give it freedom at long, long last. To let it spread its wings and soar.