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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Again there was that long silence, filled in by the stroke of the cloth along her throat and neck. He stopped at the edge of the hurish collar, and she was glad because it stung like a bitch.
“I see,” he said once more, his tone just as cold as hers was now. Well, she thought, too bad if he didn’t like it. Playing nice-nice with her wasn’t going to win him any points. “It is my guess that this has been your experience in the past?”
“Is that your guess?” she asked sarcastically. “Wow. Bright guy.”
“And who would try this with you?”
“My pig uncle, for one. But he got tired after a while.”
She heard him swallow, but it didn’t release the deadly danger she heard in his voice when he said, “Tired?”
She extended her leg forward, her foot catching him actually quite gently beneath where his scrotum would be. The top of her ankle fit snugly to his balls through his slacks, and her shin nudged against his penis. She was good at making as full a contact as she possibly could, making certain she caught all the goodies at once. Usually quite hard.
But this time she was making a point, so she just bumped him with a little slide to make him wholly aware of her positioning…and his. She had to smile when the automatic male reaction to grab hold of her leg to control her came over him. His grip closed tight around her calf and shin, but instead of pushing away as most would do to deflect her, he held her tightly in place against himself. Clever boy. He was taking away the power of her momentum this way, something most idiots never realized. She couldn’t get up enough steam to castrate him if she was already in contact with him.
“Resourceful,” he said, the sound of his smile in his voice surprising her just as much as the realization she could just about make out that smile. “But a kick in the balls has been known to simply piss some men off. To make them more violent.”
“Is that a warning?” she asked, narrowing her eyes and trying to make out his features. Dark skin, dark hair, and a white smile described every Shadowdweller male alive.
Well, maybe not the smile.
“Yes. Not as pertains to me, per se—though I would be quite angry, I assure you—but I can teach you other ways that will take a man down in a single blow. Then you can run and get help freely.”
“Freely.” She snorted and flicked a finger against her collar, turning her foot so the ankle cuff pressed through his pants. “Oh right, because I’m so free.”
She saw him shake his head and then realized she could see the shine of smooth ebony. It was long and loose, waved and curled to his shoulders. She looked up quickly and found his eyes. Under fine dark brows and the shelf of a serious-looking forehead, she found golden eyes. Almost as gold as her collar, but darker and deeper than that. Those eyes, and the strong aristocratic features they were set in, looked quite convincingly confused.
“What does that mean?” he demanded.
“Oh, please. Are you going to sit there and pretend I’m not a slave you just bought for gods know what? You can be all sweet if you like, but—”
He surged up to his full height, which with her cleared vision Daenaira got to appreciate for the very first time. He was well over six feet, which towered over her as she sat. She hated sitting in front of a standing male. Too often they liked to try to grab her by her hair and try—
“I did not buy a slave,” he ground out with a fiery affront and in a booming voice that gave her the chills. “I paid a bride price for a handmaiden. A dowry, just like any man who takes another man’s daughter would do!”
Dae blinked and for the first time looked at what her new owner was wearing.
He was clothed in the dark violet uniform of a temple priest.
“Well, somebody fucked up,” she informed him with her usual snide attitude. “I’ve been a slave for the past eight years, and today I was sold to someone else. I assume that would be you. You can call it a dowry or what have you, but it’s still buying and peddling flesh without that person’s permission!”Magnus wanted to reply, but he was so infuriated he didn’t dare speak. He looked at the collar once more, as well as the anklets he had only just noticed under her skirt when she had pressed one to him. They were plain gold rings at first sight, but with ominous dread he looked closer, lifting her hair and seeing the circuit lock in the back.
No one has touched me appropriately in eight years.
That tidbit of information and others like it were beginning to fill in the picture for him. He realized he had touched her again without asking and quickly dropped her hair and backed off.
“Tell me that is not a hurish,” he demanded of her. “Hurish are for controlling cattle. Livestock. Not people!”
“Well, it was all the same to my aunt and uncle,” she spat back at him. “I guess they left it on for you as a gift. The remote is probably around here somewhere.” She affected looking around herself. “No? Maybe the guards have it.”
“They controlled you with electrical impulses?” Magnus had never heard of anything like it. Not in his society! The Nightwalkers were supposed to be advanced, sophisticated people. The Shadowdwellers were, unfortunately, considered the most juvenile of all supernatural species because their culture was still only a decade past picking themselves up out of the ashes of civil war. That, and they were tattooed with a centuries-old reputation of being mischief makers, causing a whole lot of trouble to the rest of the world. However, he and the reigning household had spent thirty years cultivating a newer and more ordered version of their society. They had dissolved the infighting clans, elevating good leaders into the renewed political body of the Senate. Everyone in the city was provided for. Education, shelter, heat, food, religion. As with any society, he knew things slipped through the cracks, but…
“No,” she retorted tartly. “They used electrical impulses to keep me on the property. They used electro-shock to fry discipline into my ass. Ask your guards if you don’t believe me. They watched Winifred do it to me right before we left.”
Magnus didn’t need to ask. If there was one thing he was knowledgeable of, it was the truth. Truth, in fact, was his special gift. With just a touch, he could compel the truth from anyone. It would replay in both their minds with impartial sight. Even those who didn’t know they were lying to themselves couldn’t hide from his power. Although he wasn’t touching her at the moment, she was radiating the bald honesty of what she was saying in a rather beautiful sort of defiance that fed the truth into him with force.
He reached a hand toward her, saw her almond-shaped eyes narrow the tiniest fraction, and stopped to bend closer to her.
“Can I touch you to take these evil things off you?” he asked her softly.
“Are you really a priest?” she asked with suspicion as she looked over his uniform. She was searching for some kind of flaw that would reveal a deception, he realized.
“Yes. I am a priest. And you, little spitfire, are going to be my handmaiden.”
That made her laugh. She started with a soft snort, but then belted out enthused amusement that might have made him smile if he wasn’t so appalled by all he was seeing and learning.
“Okay, first of all, I am clearly not religious material, M’jan…um…”
“Magnus. M’jan Magnus.”
He watched that hit her like a gut punch, and this time he couldn’t help smiling a little when she giggled in a fit until her face flushed under the smooth cappuccino coloring of her skin. She brushed back the heavy length of her peculiar-colored hair with one hand while she waved the other in her face as if to help herself take in oxygen.
“Okay, baby,” she gasped, still laughing so that her eyes sparked and glittered with her humor. “If you were going to pick someone to pretend to be, why in Light would you pick the head priest of Sanctuary? I mean, come on! Magnus is the most powerful priest there is, both politically and physically, I’ve heard. He runs everything and is practically married to Darkness Herself!” Here the humor stopped cold and she slowly stood up to give him a positively evil look of hatred, proving all of her laughter a lie. “And M’jan Magnus has had a handmaiden for two centuries. He certainly doesn’t need another, and he certainly wouldn’t want it to be some low-born piece-of-filth slave girl who never went to school in her life!”
So much rage.
Magnus had never seen so much anger in the blood and spirit of a woman as he did when he looked into this troubled and magnificently powerful young girl. Slave? No. She had never capitulated, so slave was not the term for her. Captive, perhaps, but this woman was no man’s slave.
Yet, she had offered herself to him.
“My handmaiden died six weeks ago,” he said simply, feeling nothing would be constructive in elaborating on those circumstances with her. In fact, the less she knew, the more it would content him. At least for now.
“Died.” She echoed the word, folding her arms under her breasts and creating a shelf that held her in enhanced shape. Magnus let his eyes drift briefly, but he took in the entirety of her curving body. He suspected she was thin for her generous height, but just the same, she curved like a back-mountain highway. There was a cut and sweep to her waist that accented her hips and, he suspected, her backside as well. He couldn’t see at the moment. Between that and those rather hefty breasts, he realized this was definitely a full-grown woman he was dealing with.
He had thought she was younger.
“There’s got to be—”
She was cut off when someone cleared a throat nearby. She jumped in her own skin, and without thinking, Magnus reached out to settle her with a calming touch on her arm.
“I asked not to be disturbed,” Magnus snapped at the young guard.
“Apologies, M’jan Magnus,” he said quickly, touching a spread palm to his heart and bowing with deep respect. “Chancellor Tristan has arrived, requesting an emergent audience with you.”
Daenaira sat down hard, grateful the chaise was still right behind her.Magnus turned to look at her, those strangely compelling eyes of gold telling her so many things in one sudden jolt she felt as if her brain was on overload.
Truth. It was the truth. He really was M’jan Magnus, the greatest priest in all the history of Sanctuary, leader of the great temple of Darkness and Light. Her eyes dropped to the katana secured to his waist in a weapons belt. There was a pouch in the rear holding a set of bolos. On the opposite hip there were two other hard leather pouches. These, she suspected, held some sort of hand-thrown missiles like saw-stars or shurikens.
Magnus was also renowned in their world for being the most ruthless warrior protector of the ’scapes. Shadowscape, Dreamscape, or Realscape—any ’Dweller who violated moral law or the martial rules of those dimensions, he hunted them down and, usually, destroyed them. They were called Sinners, and the gods knew they deserved what they got if they did something to earn a warrior like Magnus on their trail.
But something had happened. She could feel it in a wicked, crawling sensation under her skin. Dae had no idea why she felt this way or what it really meant, but she knew that something had tainted the power of the man standing before her.
“Please, K’yindara, sit for a moment while I meet with Tristan. I will return as soon as I am able and we can finish our discussion,” he said, a soothing hand gesture toward her seeming to be an aborted move at touching her with reassurance, but he remembered in time. For the first time, it began to sink in to Daenaira that things were not at all what she had thought they were going to be.
“K’yindara?” she echoed numbly.
“Well, it will do until you feel ready to tell me your name.” He turned to the guard, who was staring at her with gaping curiosity. Magnus snapped his fingers to gain the guard’s focus, the sharp sound reproving all on its own without the dark scowl that accompanied it. “See Tristan into my office. I will be right behind you.”
“Yes, M’jan,” the guard said respectfully before bowing slightly and then hurrying out of the room. When he was gone, Magnus turned to look at her once more, his features shadowed with hard thoughts she wished she could hear.
“Take this time, K’yindara, to relax and reflect on the understanding that I am not here to hurt you. The details of your staying here will be our first topic on my return. Until then, try and rest easy.”
She watched him hesitate a moment, and then he turned and left the room at a clipped step. Daenaira exhaled a long, slow breath as she slowly began to take in the room around her.
“Holy Light,” she swore softly as she did.
The room was gigantic, really. Lined in dark maroon glass tiles with beautiful etchings, the walls and ceiling seemed to stretch above her and made her feel a little small in the middle of it all. She was in a bath. The floor that sprawled beneath her was patterned in a tight mosaic of maroon, jet, and golden tiles. The gold was an accent along edges of the surface wherever it was broken by objects or walls. Except for when it disappeared into the water of the enormous tiled bath sunk into the floor before her.
Bath was less appropriate than pool.
The huge expanse of water ran up to and then under the far wall, making her believe it was fed naturally somehow. She got up on her feet, wobbling in unreliable steps to the spot where Magnus had washed his face.
Holy shit! She had spit in the face of a priest!
“Oh gods,” she groaned. “They definitely let you burn in Light in the afterlife for something like that.” Not that she was a heavily religious woman, but she believed that much at the very least.