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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You could look at it like that.” He chuckled. “Although—”
The bedroom door banged open hard, startling them both. Men, armed and in black, rushed into the room and one raised a gun and shot Guin.
Guin barely felt the sting of the barbed dart that gouged into his back. He was already grabbing the dagger from under the pillow under Malaya’s head and rolling up to his feet. Keeping himself between Malaya and the shooter, he met the first swinging blade fearlessly, not even caring that he was naked but furious because Malaya was. His dagger flashed in and out of a chest as he disarmed the man of his sword and took it for himself. Though it was poorly balanced in the hilt, Guin compensated enough to decapitate the next man who rushed him. His only advantage was that they had to keep coming one at a time through the narrow door. He could keep them away from Malaya and defeat them by ones and twos as long as he stayed fast and savage.
Unfortunately, by the sixth intruder, the narcotic from the dart began to saturate his system. He became light-headed and disoriented. Still, he took down another and another. But he worked too slow and they overwhelmed the room, some even getting past him and going toward Malaya. Laya had gained her feet and one of the dead men’s weapons, a short sword she swung hard and fast, reminding these fools she wasn’t just a pretty little princess. Few could match her footwork and she floated in and out of reach, flexing and stretching to avoid their blows.
It was going to come down to a matter of how many men there were in his house versus how long he could fight the narcotic effect. The odds weren’t in his favor, he realized with dread as his already sexually sated body made him fast and easy work for the drug. He fell to his knees hard and had never known his eyes to feel so damn heavy. Malaya was the only thing on his mind, her name on his lips to the very last as he collapsed hard and fast onto the bloody floor.
“Ah…there we go.”
Guin awoke to the distorted sentence, lifting his head slowly as it reeled with the remnants of the narcotic in his system. His vision was blurred, his eyes heavy with drugs. He tried to move, only to find he couldn’t. He pulled, working his muscles harder, and he heard the distinct rattling of metal as he was restricted from movement above his biceps and at his wrists.
Becoming sharply aware of the binding helped him rouse out of his stupor, and his whole body surged upward. He realized very quickly that he was bound at both arms, around his throat, and around his thighs and ankles, too, and he was restricted to kneeling, his knees on hard stone and separated by about a foot and a half distance.
He was also stark naked.
It was hot and he was covered in sweat, his hair drenched as he shook it out of his eyes. He saw two pyres of black fire burning, one on either side of him, and felt the way they were heating the metal that lashed him down. Turning his head sharply, he looked across from himself.
His gut soured and his heart stopped when he saw Malaya in almost a perfectly mirrored situation. Her head was drooped forward, her hair sticking to her damp body everywhere.
“Malaya!” He lunged against his bonds, testing their power against his own.
“How typical of you,” a woman’s voice drawled from behind him. “Chained and leashed like the dog you are, and still all you think of is running to your mistress and panting over her.”
Guin tried to turn and see the speaker, but he was rigged up so tightly he barely had two inches of movement. But he didn’t have to guess at who his captor was. He only wanted to get his hands on her.
“Acadian,” he greeted her, his throat coarse with thirst.
“Ajai Guin,” she returned.
The sound of a chain jerked his attention straight ahead and he watched Malaya’s head lift, her whiskey eyes dulled with the same drugs they’d given him, no doubt. When she roused enough to see him she jolted against her chains.
“It’s okay, honey,” he said quickly, everything in him straining to get across the room to her.
“No, it’s not. You’re both fucked and he knows it,” Acadian said with amusement.
Malaya looked up over his shoulder and he watched as she realized what he already knew.
“Acadian,” she corrected. “Actually, both. Acadian Helene, or so my mother says. I never used my first name until the war. I figured it was wise to keep my noble name separate from the reputation I knew I could develop as a torturer. Just in case.” She leaned in to whisper into Guin’s ear. “Very clever of me, don’t you think?”
“The only clever thing about you is the way something so poisonous could be put in such an innocent-looking package, and that credit strictly belongs to the gods who made you,” Guin snarled at her.
“Insults right off the bat. Again, how typical. Let’s see what else I can predict, hmm? I predict that when Andonel, the trusty servant you see standing behind Malaya, begins to rape her royal body, you are going to go absolutely crazy.”
She didn’t have to wait. Malaya watched with tears in her eyes as Guin roared in fury and fought the chains that held him until he began to bleed at every point. He called for her in desperation, terror, and self-recrimination swimming in his granite eyes. Realizing the futility of his struggle, he settled, but he kept his eyes on the servant in question until waves of threat and hatred poured out of him.
“If you touch her, I’ll break every fucking bone in your fucking body,” he threatened in a rasp of deadly promise.
Andonel gave Guin a half-smile, then reached out to brush his hand against Malaya’s cheek, pulling her hair back over her shoulder with a stroke that traveled along as much of her skin as possible before falling away. Guin watched her shudder as she turned her head hard away in an effort to avoid him.
“But wait. Before we get to that,” Acadian said with delightful amusement in her voice, “I want to show you I’m not completely heartless. Everyone makes me out to be this stone-cold bitch with no feelings. It’s simply not true. I felt my daughter’s death very deeply. And now, the priest and the bitch who killed her are feeling her death very deeply. I’d say about womb deep, wouldn’t you?” She inspected Guin for a moment from the side as if waiting for him to reply to that, but then shrugged and walked around to his side. “Anyway, let’s make a little bargain, shall we? Guin, you’ll appreciate this, I think. You’ve spent years of your life knowing you could lose your life protecting the little queen here from all the big bad things in our world. But did you ever wonder if she’d be willing to do the same? Hmm?”
“Shut up,” he spat out, his eyes fixing on Malaya as her body trembled in her growing fear. He knew she was remembering the vision she had had just as he was. They both knew where this was going to lead. “You and I both know she’s a self-centered bitch who never gives a damn about the little people doing her bidding every day. Has she even bothered to ask about Fatima? The serving girl your men went through to get to me?”
He heard her gasp with distress and he glared at her. She had to go along with him or they were in the worst of trouble. Even more than they appeared to be in already. The last thing he wanted was for Malaya to barter with Acadian for his life. She would never refuse to throw herself in front of Acadian’s claws for him. He knew it with all of his soul. But he had protected her for too long to let it come to this. If she would just let him do his job one last time, maybe he could save her.
“See? Now she thinks of it.”
“Fatima? Oh, she’s safe.” Acadian chuckled. “Fatima, angel, come to Mother.”
Fatima walked into the room, looking out of breath and flushed, but smiling as she met Helene halfway across the floor and hugged her tightly. Acadian turned to look at two sets of angry eyes.
“Well, how did you think I always knew so much about you? The fights. The amusements. The rumors and the truths. Although, naughty girl, she didn’t figure out you two were really lovers until just before we caught you. How did you think we knew where you were and that you were finally without palace protection? I admit, it was a surprising special bonus for the day. But she gave me enough notice so I could plan to be chatting with Killian when my people went to get you. What better alibi than the head of the city guard? After that, no one will suspect me again.”
She absently touched her throat where deep bruises had once been where Guin had almost throttled her to death. He’d come very close to it. She’d taken a great risk playing that game with him and Dae. He could just as well have run her and Angelique through and asked questions later. Guin realized she’d been gambling on knowing that he would want to feel the life draining out of her for every single minute of her death. It was probably also why she had planned to be with Malaya at the time. She’d known Malaya well enough to know she would pull him back.
“Anyway, no hard feelings against Tima? Yes? No? She was just being a good girl for her mother. Go ahead, Tima, go rest. You’re through being a serving girl for this spoiled girl.” Fatima left the room as quickly as she’d come and Guin heard her running up some stairs. Wherever they were, there were multiple stories to the house. It made him believe they were actually quite close to the main level of the city. Only the wealthier houses tended to have multiple stories. Those houses seemed to be restricted to the first two or three city levels, as the prestige of being nearest to the royals made them prime property. That made him realize there was a chance they were in Helene’s own house. Barely a block from the palace! But they might as well be in New Zealand. Then he suddenly thought of Rika. The vizier had the power of locus. By now they’d have noticed Malaya’s extended absence and would be frantic to find her. As long as she had the strength for it, Rika could easily find them there. The trouble was in defending their lives if they came crashing down on the house. Helene and her servant were both armed with daggers. They would cut his and Malaya’s throats wide open if they had a five-second warning.
“Anyway, back to the bargaining table. Let’s see how your mistress values your life, Guin.”
“She doesn’t. Don’t bother. I’m just her stud of the week. Trust me on that.” He recalled how he had felt when he had actually believed that and never thought he would be glad to borrow on the experience of the emotion. His bitterness sounded all too real. He looked at Malaya, desperate for her to let him do this.
“Let’s test that theory, shall we?”
Acadian moved to a table off to the side between them and reached to slide her hand into the leather glove of the infamous metal claws she was known to use in her torture. With four curved tines, like a fork, only much sharper, these were what she had used during her torture of Trace. To this day he still bore those raking scars all over his back.
After securing it tightly to her palm, she moved back to Guin. She stood behind the warrior and then reached down the front of his body; curling her fingers and exposing the blades, she let them lightly rake him through his pubic hair. Guin was breathing hard, his entire psyche wanting to rebel against the threat, but all he did was keep his gaze locked on Malaya’s.
“The bargain is simple. Your life for his, little queen.” Acadian smiled as she looked up at the Chancellor. “Let me kill him as I please as you sit and watch, and I set you free without a scratch.”
“That’s a lie. I know who you are now, and this is a capital crime. You’ll be killed.”
“Memory can be destroyed. I have a nifty little drug that could wipe out…oh, say, the last year of your life. I guess you could call that a little scratch. So you got me there. So…a little scratch for you, and—”
Acadian jerked harshly against Guin, letting the claws catch him where they would as she swiped him across his chest like a temperamental cat. Guin couldn’t help shouting out. The claws tore at him so savagely, the metal tines hot from sitting so close to the black fire. The fire didn’t give off any light, but it burned with plenty of heat, and the tines had absorbed it well.
“Stop it!” Malaya shouted, struggling with her own chains as helplessly as he had. It was just the reaction he had wanted her to keep from making. As he gasped for breath, Acadian crossed her arm over him again, hovering over fresh, unmarked flesh.
“Now I see you are paying attention. But you haven’t heard the entire deal. If, for some crazy reason, you decide to trade your life for his, you will be raped…by men and a variety of things…and you will feel my claws. Both will share time with you for, oh, well, however long it takes you to die. I figure a few weeks. Months maybe, seeing as how you’re so strong. Agree to that and he goes free. I think that makes things pretty clear. So? What’s your choice, little queen?”
“Why are you doing this?” Malaya cried out.
“Because I like it! Because after you are gone, Tristan will start to fall apart and will make mistakes. Then he’ll be mine, leaving an empty throne that the sole surviving relative of your family will fill. Your cousin. Fatima. You see, your uncle got two children on me. Nicoya and Fatima. Fraternal twins. Coya was born last, but she was always my best. Tima means well, and she will make an excellent dummy queen as I guide her in everything she does. I would have had one on each throne had Coya lived. But that k’ypruti”—she raked over Guin for emphasis and went much deeper and slower this time, blood spitting out of his wounds as she severed thick vessels—“killed her. But she’s paying now, isn’t she?” Acadian grabbed Guin by the hair and jerked his head back so she could see his eyes and the agony she had created. “She’d be suffering more if not for you and your heroics, wouldn’t she?”