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|Pleasure(Shadowdwellers #3) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“And you’re just figuring this out now?”
“It’s just an observation of the moment,” he retorted. “I have lots of big things that seem to fit with you just right.”
“Now, that I figured out early on.” She laughed, reaching to wrap both hands around the erect staff jutting out hard from his body. “Hmm. You feel very tense. Let’s relax you. Where’s the soap?”
The Chancellors were seated in their chairs of office in their reserved balcony in the Senate. The two broad chairs were centered in the wide space with a great deal of room on either side. Trace and Rika were seated behind the state chairs. As always, Xenia stood to Tristan’s right near the rail, and Guin stood to Malaya’s left.
The Senate was buzzing with greetings and conversation as always, their signal to become quiet usually being the royals’ entrance. But today Malaya and Tristan had been seated long before the first Senate members had filed in. The turn in protocol had baffled them, keeping them whispering at first, but far too much had happened since the Senate had last met for them to remain quiet.
The call for silence wasn’t ever formally made, but Malaya knew it would come momentarily when she heard the door to the balcony open. Two servants entered carrying a third chair identical to the twins.’ They walked it between themselves, the heavy thing a bit of a struggle, and so caught the attention of the gathering around them slowly but surely. First in pockets of silence or gasps, but then in a uniform blanket of quiet that lay over each and every seat in the risers. The lack of noise was so complete, everyone could hear the servants grunting as they moved the seat perfectly into place at Malaya’s right, and the sound of the thing’s feet hitting the tiled flooring. With quick acts of obeisance to their monarchs, the two men left the chair standing empty beside the queen.
The twins quietly waited.
Senator Jericho stood up to be recognized, and Malaya darted a look and sly smile to Guin. She’d said it would be him, and Guin had laid bets on Angelique. It looked like Malaya was going to get her night of total servitude quite soon. Guin returned the acknowledgment softly, his eyes flashing hot with promise at her.
“My Lady, are we to assume this is an indication of our need for glorious celebration because you have already selected a mate for your joining?”
Malaya stood up, moved to the front rail beside the podium, and, laying her hands on the railing, she leaned toward the assemblage, and toward Jericho in particular.
“Ajai Jericho, before I respond to your observant query, I should like to pose a question to you first.”
“By all me—”
“I should like to know if you are ill, Ajai.”
“I—Ill? No, of course not,” he said with a bit of bluster that his virility and vitality were being questioned.
“You are unaffected by a memory illness?” she pushed further.
“No, My Lady. I am in perfect health and of quite sound mind.”
“Hmm. Very well then, We shall have to assume then that your refusal to use Our proper title is an act of blatant disrespect and We must dole out sanctions accordingly. You are hereby commanded by your Chancellors to absent yourself from all Senate proceedings for the remainder of the season. During this time you are to reflect on your behavior and on Our intolerance of it in the future. We also suggest you practice saying K’yatsume quite often, because if you make the error when you return next season, you will be banned and excommunicated altogether from the Senate for the remainder of your life.”
There were several gasps and Jericho was entirely apoplectic. Angelique shot up to speak, but Malaya cut her off.
“Any complaints, whining, or outright bitching about this choice from within the forum will be ignored and found irritating to Us. If We are irritated, We have decided to be equally severe against those who cause said irritation.”
That said, Malaya turned with regal posture and returned to her seat. The twins waited as a furious Jericho was escorted from the Senate by two city guards. Malaya turned to her lover and inclined her head. She had just given him his engagement present. Guin had told her how much he despised that she allowed such disrespect, and she had agreed it was time to do something about it. She wouldn’t let another Acadian ever mistake her for being weak again.
Once Jericho was gone, Tristan stood and addressed the assemblage from the podium.
“Anai, Ajai, I announce to you my sister’s engagement and give you her fiancé of choice.”
Tristan went to sit down and the room stirred with eager curiosity as everyone waited for the chosen man to appear. They looked around themselves to see who was moving to the royal booth or who was missing from their ranks. Then, once they were all quiet and watching raptly forward, Guin sharply snapped his heels together, the sound ricocheting around the rotunda along with his sharp footsteps as he crossed to take his seat beside Malaya. He arranged his weapons a moment, then reached for the hand of his woman and, lacing his fingers through with hers, he brought her knuckles to his lips as their eyes met with intensity of emotion.
The room exploded.
Guin briefly closed his eyes as he took the brunt of the assault of outrage, shock, and blatant hostility from the gathered nobles. When he opened them again, he could see the disappointment in Malaya’s eyes, even though her expression remained mostly passive. Senators began to shout up to the royal balcony, their anger striking like whips.
Suddenly, Malaya jolted out of her seat and shouted at the top of her voice.
“How dare you?”
“How dare you, K’yatsume?” Angelique shouted back, forcing the audience to simmer down. “How dare you place that barbarian in a seat of state and threaten the sanctity of your royal bloodlines with his ordinary seed? You think to breed our future rulers with this?” She gestured to Guin with absolute disgust radiating from her every pore. “It is an insult to us and a mockery of your honorable position!”
“You sanctimonious bitch!” Malaya growled out as she stormed up to the railing. “All of you! Sitting there thinking how much better you are than those in the lower levels of this city. No wonder they despise our position in life! Not because we have it so good, but because we’ve forgotten where we have come from! Who are you all but defeated clan elders my brother and I were hoping would mature enough to bring the needs of their people to our attention? Instead you waste time trying to jockey for power over me and inflicting an archaic law on me about marriage and succession. What of those who go hungry in your provinces? What of those who are being hunted and picked off by larger and more powerful enemies than we have ever known before? What of telling me their feelings about the other Nightwalker clans’ offer to make a summit of peace with us? Or to develop a policing system? You had all of the off season to circulate these items of interest. Instead of pursuing these important issues, you are all trying to prove your…your dicks are bigger than ours!”
The collective gasp that rushed the risers was priceless. Guin covered his mouth to hide his grin, and Tristan was coughing into his hand to camouflage a laugh.
“And you dare to call Guin ordinary in any way? After the unheard-of dedication he has invested in Our safety and this throne? This man is the greatest warrior of our time and you call him ordinary? I crave the children of a man of such strength and character!” She held a hand out and open in his direction. “Big, healthy babies, protected by a father who will never stop watching over them, and inborn with the determination to always strive to be better than what they are every single moment.
“And you treat that as a taint to me? As if any of you would be so much better? You give me names of fifteen men, most of whose barbarism during the wars would make them unpalatable to a rhinoceros! One is distinctly homosexual, so I’d like to see how I am supposed to conceive any blue-blooded children with him, and those who were even passable enough to consider would be like straw beside me on my throne. Here I bring you a man of powerful ideals, in touch with the thoughts and needs of the common people you all are supposed to be serving, and a warrior who could protect our city and our people with his vast experience.
“Let me also add the one thing no one else could or would be able to provide me. His absolute and loyally dedicated love for me. Everything he is today is because of how he loves me. Who he became and how he acted constantly to see I was safe, happy, and well was all because he loved me with every minute of every day. And yet he would have sacrificed his heart, run the dagger through it himself, if he thought I could be happier elsewhere. And you wish me to turn my back on that because…because his blood is not noble enough for you?
“Please,” she scoffed at them. “Half of you were hiding from the sun in dark hovels before the wars, amusing yourselves by pulling children’s tricks on unsuspecting others. Noble what? Noble partiers? How impressive you all must have been, dancing and fornicating day in and day out and taking potshots at your neighboring clans just for a change of pace! You really want to play this hand? You really want to see which of us has the bigger tool? By all means, stand and defend your reasoning. Argue until you are blue in the face. But I warn you now, you will be talking to yourselves. Tristan and I have agreed that there is no better man for me in this culture, and when it comes right down to it, Senators, nothing you say or do can change that. And if you think to rouse trouble among the commoners…”
Malaya paused to smile with wicked pleasure.
“Go right ahead,” she invited. “I’d like to see how many of them will complain that their queen has chosen one of their own, without prejudice, to love and marry and breed their future rulers with.”
Malaya left her position with a sharp about-face, walked up to Guin, and then, her body and attitude suddenly softening into visible warmth and tenderness, she bent over his lap to kiss him warmly. Then she took his hand and brought him out of his seat. Holding his fingers tightly between hers, she brought him forward.
“Anai, Ajai,” she said evenly, “I present to you my husband-to-be, Ajai Guin. Guin, would you like to say something to the assemblage to mark the beginning of your role in this monarchy?”
“Yeah.” Guin turned and glared into the risers. “I’m warning you now. Don’t fuck with me.”
Guin drew Malaya close to his body and kissed her slowly and warmly. Then they turned and exited the balcony and, as promised, wouldn’t listen to a single argument against them.
“You were amazing,” Guin said on quick, escalating breaths.
“So were you.” She laughed against his mouth. Guin kissed her again and again, her head held between his hands and her body pressed between his and the door of the small meeting room. “And I should have known.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” He chuckled.
“The Senate. I should have known you’d want to do me in the Senate.”
“I want to do you everywhere and every way I can possibly think up. And when I’m done thinking up stuff on my own, I’m going to read lots and lots of books.”
“You don’t like to read.” She laughed.
“For this I will make an exception. Although I will start with ones that have pictures first. Just to make it easier, of course.”
There was a sharp rap at the door that vibrated through Malaya and made her go still for a moment beneath his mouth.
“We’re going to ignore that, right?” Guin asked.
“Mm-hmm,” she agreed, smiling as she kissed him to prove it.
The knock came harder the second time, the sensation annoying to the lovers, who preferred to concentrate on other things. Guin growled in his irritation.
“Welcome to my world.” Malaya giggled. “Wait and see. It’s much different being my guard as opposed to regent. You realize they are actually going to assign someone to guard you now, don’t you?”
Guin pulled her away from the door, moving her aside as he grabbed for the knob.
“Over my dead body,” he groused as he jerked the door open. “I am perfectly capable of taking care of—”
The draw and plunge of the dagger into his chest was so fast that he barely reacted in time to draw up a fist, stopping the blade from sinking all the way to the hilt as he spoiled the attacker’s full thrust into him by the width of his closed hand.
Still, half of an eight-inch dagger was enough to do serious damage, and considering how true the aim had been for his heart, Guin fell back in shock and hit the floor hard. Lodged in bone and heart muscle, the blade came with him, protruding from him as he stared at it for a stunned moment. He realized that he could actually see the beat of his heart vibrating up the blade and hilt.
Malaya screamed so loudly that it drew everyone within reach. The guards had already tackled the attacker and were holding her down on the floor as Malaya fell to her knees by Guin’s body.
“Drenna save us! Guin!” she cried out, the terror and heartache filling her voice and her horrified eyes, making him reach to grab hold of her any way he could manage. But she was on his left and his coordination was deteriorating as he lost feeling in that arm. “Oh, Guin,” she sobbed, leaning over him and, for a moment, unable to figure out where to touch him. “Somebody help him!” she screamed.
“Too late! Now you’ll see what power the Senate can really have over you!” Angelique grunted out from beneath the weight of the guards holding her. “Did you really think we would let this abomination take place?”
Malaya turned through her tears as an overwhelming rage possessed her.
“Give me a blade! Give me a blade!” she screeched as she scrabbled over the floor toward the prone Senator. She rammed through the guards, fighting off the hands trying to stay her as she lunged for Angelique’s throat. “Give me a blade or I’ll flay her with my bare nails! Give me a blade!”