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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Down, boy,” she whispered softly to him, amusement erasing the pain from her features almost instantly. For that, it was worth every inappropriate sensation he was feeling.
“Can I help it if you’re hotter than this black fire over here?” he whispered back to her.
“Hmm. And when they take me away from you and you’re sporting a major hard-on, that won’t embarrass you a little?”
“No, because no one is taking you away from me.” Guin reached out and stroked a thumb over her cheek. “Not ever again.”
“Ditto. And leaving voluntarily is also out of the question.”
“And so is trading away your life. I’m really pissed off at you about that.”
“I can tell.” She snickered, shifting a little in his lap.
Guin closed his eyes briefly and tried not to look like he was enjoying himself. After all, he’d just escaped this hell with his life barely intact. He concentrated on the stinging wounds across his chest, the alphabet…any mundane thing he could think of. It could hardly be effective while she was shifting around…and he was more and more certain she was doing it on purpose now.
“And here I thought I’d been rescued from torture.”
“Poor you,” she said sympathetically.
“Ah, rescued again,” he said when Killian came up to them with blankets.
Guin took them from him and wrapped Malaya up tightly, continuing to hold her just as tightly and affectionately as ever. It felt incredibly good to know he had the right to touch her like this publicly. It felt even better when she wasn’t in any hurry to leave his arms.
Magnus came over to them, taking a knee beside them.
“Fatima died. Poor thing. She was very brave, doing what she did. She knew if we laid siege, her mother would kill you immediately. She volunteered to come back and open the house to us.”
“She was a good girl.”
“So were you,” Guin countered. “Thank the gods for who you are, K’yatsume. She wouldn’t have learned to love you so much otherwise.”
“Hey, what’d I tell you about calling me K’yatsume when we’re—”
Guin’s hand quickly covered her mouth and he glanced at Magnus, who dropped his head to cover a smile.
“Thank you for your timely entrance, M’jan Magnus,” he said. “I was getting worried for a second there.”
“Just a second?” Magnus asked.
“How is Dae?” Malaya queried.
“I think…I think she’s satisfied for the moment. But it won’t last long. When we get back to Sanctuary, she’ll begin to realize nothing has really changed. But I’ll be there when she does.” He looked up and smiled enigmatically at his handmaiden. “So,” he said after a moment, “shall we get you two home?”
“Gladly,” Guin said.
“And where is home these days?” he asked of Guin.
Guin looked at Malaya and grinned.
“Where it always is. Right next to her.”
Malaya rolled over slowly, burrowing into the big, warm body next to her, sliding her naked skin on his and enjoying the feel so much that she smiled. He moved, his arm curling up and around her shoulders until he had her wrapped tightly against his side and chest. She heard him sigh long and slow as he dropped two slow kisses at her hairline.
“Big night,” he noted softly.
“I don’t see why,” she replied, exaggerating a yawn and stretch.
“Maybe because you are going before the Senate today to tell them who you have picked for your future groom?”
“Trust me, after that whole business at Acadian’s and these past couple of days we spent locked up in here, I’m pretty sure gossip has done the job for me.”
“They know I’m your lover at most. You’ve told no one but Tristan, and he is too pleased at the idea of seeing the shock on their faces to give anything away. I wasn’t certain if I should find that insulting or not.”
“Not. He has developed a real animosity toward the Senate because of this law and he just wants to see me put them in their places. Tristan thinks the world of you, Guin.”
“As a man, maybe. But as a brother-in-law?”
“Are we back to this again? Don’t feel like this, Guin. And stop worrying that others will feel this way. Tristan is happy for me. He even said something to the effect of ‘It’s about time you figured it out, sis.’ Which made me want to hit him. Seems like everyone knew how you felt but me.” He chuckled when she frowned petulantly. “Well. I feel like an ass.”
“The only one who really knew for any length of time, my honey, was Trace. He figured it out a few years back. I’d say the rest of them bought a clue after the whole arranged marriage thing started to give me a meltdown. They aren’t all as smart as they think they are.”
“They were still quicker about it than I was.” She scooted up over him, looking down straight into his eyes. “I don’t know how you ever could think someone so dense was so perfect. For that matter, you didn’t treat me like you thought I was perfect. You were always arguing with me.”
“Yeah, but your stubbornness was one of your charms. I guess I love a strong-willed woman. You’ve never been afraid of me. Everyone else always is. Intimidated at the very least. That makes an impression on someone like me.” He grinned as he drew her down so he could nuzzle her under her ear. “So does the fact that you always smell like sweet jasmine and that you have skin so smooth it would make Drenna jealous.”
“Guin,” she scolded. “Don’t say things like that.”
“Well it’s true. And She will forgive a man in love for feeling that way if She can forgive criminals of terrible crimes.” He frowned. “You know, my only regret is that I didn’t get to kill Acadian for myself. Magnus asked her to repent, was in essence giving her a chance to make amends, and all I could think was that there were no amends and not enough punishment in the world to make up for what she did to Dae. I let myself think, once, about how I would feel if it had been you and me and our baby. I guess it was the only way I could figure out how to relate to what Magnus was going through. It made me physically ill just considering the possibility. And when I saw Daenaira in bed covered in blood like that, all I could see was you.” He sighed wearily. “Shoulda crushed her fucking neck when I had the chance.”
“Yes. It would have saved you a great deal of pain.”
Malaya pushed up on her arms to see his healing chest. Unlike Trace’s, these wounds had not been made repetitively over a year’s worth of time, so he probably wouldn’t scar as obviously…if at all. His racial constitution would see to that. She was glad. She didn’t want him to carry a physical reminder of those horrid minutes when they were in her power. Malaya also drew up an entirely new level of respect for Tristan’s vizier, just as she knew Guin had. For Trace to have suffered that brutality every single day of every month for eleven months…it was inconceivable. It was amazing what the mind could put up with in the name of survival. But Trace had paid for it with scars that ran much deeper than the visible. Only Ashla had managed to touch him beyond them.
“Did you make any progress for Ashla?” she asked suddenly.
“In a way. I have someone inside the guilds who will resolve the issue. I have complete faith in his ability. I also have faith in his desire to earn my money off me. Maybe some of yours as well.”
“Who is he? How can he do this? How do you know he will succeed?”
“Consider it an ‘It takes a thief…’ approach and try not to ask me any more about it. The less I say, the better for everyone. We’ll hear about it when it’s all over. I told him not to waste time.”
“Okay. You’re right. After this business with Fatima, we’ll have to make an effort to be much more careful about what we say and who is in the room when we say it. Oh, but Guin, what an incredible relief it is to know Acadian is dead! She’s hung like a pall over us for so long! I guess we’re lucky she underestimated her daughter’s free will, huh? The gods give us our fates, but also the free will to change them if we want.”
“We’re lucky,” he said softly, drawing fingers through her hair, “that Helene underestimated you. It always amazes me how people still do that. Because you are so lovely, feminine, and traditional, they think it means meek or mild or easily overshadowed. I think you constantly surprise your opponents when you stand so proudly before them and deflect every missile and every trick with grace and poise and don’t even put a hair out of place. But Fatima saw exactly what I saw the day we met, my honey. That indefinable thing in your spirit that makes others long for you to lead them into a better future. You make it so easy to believe in you, and even easier to love you.”
Guin saw her contented little smile spread slow and soft over her mouth as she lay along him once more and relaxed in the warmth of their bodies together. Just the act of it sent contentment through him as well. He wondered if it would take another fifty years to get used to being free to hold her like this, or if he would ever stop enjoying it as thoroughly as he did.
He was just happy to know he was going to get to find out.
But he didn’t think he was having all that distorted a view of how the Senate was going to react to him as a choice in a husband. He was lowborn and dual-powered. He had no wealth to bring to the monarchy except what he’d been allotted for his service to the crown, and much of that was going to end up in Talon’s pocket if and when he succeeded in his task. Guin didn’t mind that. The assassin would have earned every penny of it.
But historically speaking, nobles married nobles. They shared wealth, position, and the genetic material that produced heirs with third powers. A third power in their society was often defining in how far a person would go. Those who had them often ended up as priests or handmaidens in Sanctuary, serving the gods and the educational upbringing of all of the Shadowdweller children. Or they moved in powerful political circles and made their mark in that way.
Rika, Trace, Tristan, and Malaya all had third powers. He did not. He had compensated for it by forging himself into the very best he could be, using his instincts to their utmost, but that would never change the nature of his blood or the genetic material he would provide to their children.
No. She was wrong when she said they wouldn’t gainsay her choice. He’d seen that blue-blooded list they’d given her. Over half the suggestions disgusted him, some actually outraged. His objectivity in looking at it was destroyed, he knew, but he couldn’t help the feeling that they’d been steering her toward a particular choice by giving her such a provocative list. Anyone who had been a part of the war, and they all had been a part of it, would know how savagely those men had behaved against the twins. And while it was true that war was war and there were few rules involved, there were morals and honor to be upheld even then, and it was unforgivable when they weren’t. Despite the pardons, some of their cruel acts would not be forgiven and certainly not forgotten. Not even by the benevolent Malaya. The idea of marrying men like that was preposterous.
If he joined with Malaya, he would become Regent Chancellor; second in power to the twins, but above everyone else by right of marriage. People of power simply did not like to give power and position like that to rough commoners like him. Especially when it would mean that, gods forbid anything happened to the twins, he could end up in a position to rule. Usually it was temporary, as any children from the marriage were raised into their heritage, but just the same…
“You’re worrying about all this again,” Malaya noted with a frown as she reached out and rubbed at the creases in his forehead. “Come, love, let’s start the evening and greet the Senate and get this business over with. When you see everything is fine and well managed, maybe then you can relax with me.”
“Have you had any visions of what tonight will be like?” he asked her warily as they both moved out of bed.
“No. My visions these past days have been very few, and those I do have are often about you making love to me in the most extraordinary places.” Malaya disappeared into the bath as she said that.
Guin instantly snapped out of his preoccupation when her words sank in, and he quickly followed her.
“What places?” he wanted to know as he came up quickly behind her and wrapped her in a bearish embrace to draw her up against him. She laughed and hugged his arms to her.
“Here. For one,” she informed him as she reached for the shower tap and turned the water on. Sliding around in his hold, she drew him under the water. “The rock garden, for another. Why? Where do you want to make love to me?”
“I don’t know. Seems to take the fun out of it if I know it’s not going to surprise you.” His frown wasn’t serious and she knew it, so she laughed.
“Poor you. Fine, we won’t make love here or the garden now that it’s ruined for you.” Malaya turned her long hair under the water, getting it thoroughly wet as she ran her hand down its length over and over again. “But don’t blame me when you start thinking about the things I might be able to manage with a bar of soap in my hands.”
“I think you are just trying to get my mind off this whole Senate thing,” he noted as he reached out to follow the interesting flow of the water down her fantastic skin. “I’d like to add that it has a great chance of working. Damn, you are the finest woman the gods ever created,” he said gruffly as his hands covered her breasts completely. “Always wondered if you’d fit my big hands just right, and damn if you don’t.”