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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Of course, his visions had been stark and clear.
Magnus swallowed the sensation of nerve-rushing heat that the admission chained through his body. He reminded himself that, since sexual needs had been the issue that had boiled away the Bond between him and Karri, dissolving their sanctified trust, it was probably Drenna’s way of warning him to keep very aware with this new maiden. That being the case, he forced himself to focus on the fragile trust he was trying to create with her.
“No one will be allowed to touch you if you do not want them to, but you will see we are a warm and affectionate group here. The women are kind and friendly and will want to hug you in greeting. The men will want to welcome you with hand-clasping. I tell you this so you understand my forgetfulness, but also because I will need to know how you wish me to handle it for you. I can request that you not be touched.”
“No. Please. It will just make me stand out like…like some sideshow. I can tolerate it. Don’t…I don’t want anyone to know what bothers me.”
Advantage. She meant that she didn’t want anyone she met to have an edge over her. Magnus was sorry she had to react in such a way to the world around her, but at the same time, in light of his troubles, her suspicion and caution would help protect her.
“Tomorrow I will start to make your sai,” he informed her. “But I was wondering what your preference of holster was going to be.” Sai were an unusual choice for a woman, their bulk making them obvious and tediously heavy on occasion. They also could get in the way of a woman’s daily activities. Since handmaidens in Sanctuary only wore saris or k’jeet, both of which were dresses, thigh holsters were awkward and unattractive.
“Really? My choice?” She licked her lips, clearly anxious to respond even though she was surprised that he was going to arm her. But Magnus wanted her to be able to defend herself in any moment.
“Yes. Your sai, your holster, your choice.”
He could appreciate that she hadn’t had much in the way of choices in her life. He also appreciated the slyness of her smile.
“Calves. But…one for boots and one set for without. If…if that’s okay.”
It was clever and devious, he thought with amusement. With the long fall of her sari, as long as she was careful, no one would even know she was wearing them. They would be completely out of her way, also, and impossible to disarm from her. Not both at once. And Magnus didn’t doubt for a second that she was aware of every single one of those details.
“I will make both,” he agreed, watching her smile snake in wicked satisfaction. The sly thing. That little grin of hers was going to get her into trouble. “But only if you tell me where you learned to use them.”
It was like throwing a gate across her face. Total lockdown. She went rigid and her crisp eyes narrowed on him. She didn’t like ultimatums. She liked even less having to barter personal information for something he knew she wanted very badly. She hated him for using it against her.
“Keep it. I never asked for it in the first place,” she snapped. “I never asked for any of this. Not in my waking hours,” she shot out, cutting off that avenue of argument.
Dae was furious. She pushed past him and stripped the sari from over her shoulder. She destroyed painstakingly created pleats and unwound it completely from her underskirt, and once she had the yardage in hand she couldn’t seem to control the urge to throw it in his face.
“Priest or man, you’re still a bastard!” She shucked off the blouse and threw that at him, too. “Here! Why bother with little tactics like too-tight blouses? I’ll walk around like this and you can show me off just like all the other pretty little cows I see herding through the hallways!”
Magnus drew the velvet, still warm from her body, away from his face and saw her standing there, feet braced hard in righteous anger, fists clenched by her sides, and her body, naked from the waist up, on proud display. From the waist down the close-to-sheer underskirt pretty much completed the picture of her entire figure.
She was something else. Bruised and battered, thin under her ribs, too slim at the waist, but…skin the color of a light touch of milk in coffee, so even and beautiful as it flowed over her very generous breasts. Her nipples were large and dark, a luscious maroon that accented the perfect teardrop shape of each breast. Below that was the span of a flat, taut belly that had seen a great deal of work tucked into its shape. Just above the low-riding skirt was the slightly darkened indentation of her navel.
The urge to tongue her in that spot rode onto him like a storm out of a clear blue sky.
His gaze shot up to hers and he hoped to Darkness the fiery desire of that thought wasn’t in his eyes right then. Not that he didn’t expect to be attracted to women or to have sexual cravings, because he was still a man, after all, but not toward her when she might see and be further insulted.
She’s the one who stripped to the skin, his libido reminded him dryly. What does she think is going to happen?
“We have time to settle this,” he said, really quite impressed with himself for his flawless tone of voice. “The sai will take a week to make. Instead of throwing tantrums, we might discuss this.” He held out her clothes to her. “Please dress yourself.”
Her response was rude, crude, and, he was certain, anatomically impossible. He wondered how furious she’d be the day he asked her to tell him where she’d learned language like that.
She marched up to him, shoving the clothing out of his grip and onto the floor. Her face was flushed with her anger, her dark eyes like amber on fire.
“Don’t you dare talk to me in that condescending, holier-than-thou tone like I’m some kind of recalcitrant child pitching a fit! I am no child! And you will damn well stop trying to train me like a puppy with rewards and treats if I’m a good girl and withholding if I am bad! If that’s the way this relationship is going, I am walking out of this gilded cage and never coming back. I don’t care what you dreamed with me or what price you paid. I’d rather be a slave in my aunt’s house than a well-heeled lapdog for you!”
Then she swung at him. She almost caught him, too. Would have served him right for letting himself be distracted by the way her furious body language jolted through her amazing breasts. Gods, you’d think you’d never seen a naked woman before! he tried to sternly lecture himself. Just the same, he caught her wrist tightly in hand, saving himself a bruise, and jerked the little spitfire forward and off balance. She crashed into him, all softness and warmth everywhere, and Magnus instantly recognized his error. She was too close. Much too close. Now that she had bathed and groomed herself, she had an incredible scent that rode on her body warmth like a dolphin skimming waves. He was eye to eye with her, nose to nose with that fury as she glared up at him, but all he could think about was the aroma wafting up from all of that bare skin. Sweet. Soft. Yes, it was like sweet whipped cream. Light and delicious and decadent.
“Drenna, you smell good.”
Oh, Light and damnation. Had he just said that aloud?
Obviously he had. The shock on her face was probably only half as amusing as his, and his throat was completely paralyzed as he tried to figure out how to counter such an incredibly stupid blunder. He’d be lucky to walk out of that room without severely bruised balls.
“Excuse me?” she said numbly, her free arm curling protectively across her chest.
Magnus had lived a long time and advised a great many people on how to repair all kinds of situations, but he was at a complete loss right then. He reacted, breaking away from her and walking around her toward the bath at a rapid clip. He should have gone for the hall, but he didn’t doubt for a second that she would follow him just as she was. She wasn’t the type who made threats she wasn’t prepared to follow through with. He was passing the water when she caught up to him, grabbed his arm with both hands, and forced him to turn toward her.
“We haven’t settled this!” she hissed at him. “Don’t you dare walk away in the middle of an argument.”
“What are you going to do if I do?” he snapped irritably. “I’m done. We’ll talk when you are rational and clothed.”
“Oh! Fuck you!”
That mouth. Quite the weapon, just as he had suspected. And just distracting enough for her to throw all of her kinetic force into a huge shove that sent him staggering back off balance.
Magnus hit the bath with the most satisfying splash Daenaira had ever heard. Uniform, weapons; the whole kit and caboodle. She probably shouldn’t have jumped and cheered. She should have been running really fast. Instead she waited for him to surface, hands on her hips and a smug smile on her lips.
“That will teach you to brush me off, you big jerk. And for making me swear at a priest!”
She held her chin up and marched back to her room. She found her blouse on the floor and tugged it on quickly. This time, there was no way he could be silent as he approached her. For one, he was streaming water. For another, he was rip-roaring mad, and there was no mistaking it in his step. Just as he reached for her, she figured they were going to kill each other. They were both so dominant they would end up tearing each other apart to make a point.
But quite abruptly he seemed to stop behind her. After a moment or two of listening to him drip on the floor, she turned and looked over her shoulder at him. He was soaked, of course, and his jaw was clenched as tight as his fists. She tried not to look too superior as she lifted a questioning brow.
“Can I touch you?”
The request rasped out of him on a hard breath, a combination of his repressed anger and…she had no idea what else. She’d never heard anything like it before. Surprise and curiosity warred with common sense and, more importantly, the understanding that despite his roaring temper he was struggling to keep his promise to her. Struggling and succeeding. Daenaira had very little experience with how to respond to someone respecting her wishes. Considering the indignant dunking she’d just given him, she couldn’t help the desire to relent—and to see just what he was going to do.
“Yes,” she said, obviously surprising him. It passed quickly, however, and she turned forward as he stepped up tightly against her back. Oh, he was vibrating with anger. She could feel it all through her body. When his hand touched her waist and slid around to cover her bare stomach, she couldn’t help but jolt at the wetness and heat, and the dread of what he was going to do next.
“It’s time you started learning your duties and the rules to go with them,” he said in a low and dangerous tone.
“Rules. I see. You mean when I can and cannot have a will of my own.”
“I mean respect for the religious role you are playing, as well as for mine. If you have no interest in that, then you should leave. I will find somewhere for you to go and live in peace, and that will be the end of it.”
“That better not be an empty promise,” she said sharply. “I’m obviously not the right person for you. I don’t care what Drenna thinks or what you think.”
“You are more right for me than you know,” he corrected her, the soft promise in his voice as it whispered lightly over her ear giving her all-new kinds of chills. Was there such a thing as hot chills? There had to be, because they were scudding over every inch of her skin, making all kinds of things pucker in response. “I don’t want a lapdog, little spitfire. I had one, and she turned on me and went for my throat.”
Dae gasped and spun around in his hands, making her realize they were both on her waist, but she didn’t even care about that. She instinctively laid her hands on the wet fabric lying over his strong chest.
“I want a companion, K’yindara, who is going to fight tooth and nail to make me realize what she wants and needs. I want a partner who will beat the shit out of anyone who tries to screw with her head. I want—” He stopped and she saw him struggling to crush the emotions trying to overrun him. Unable to help herself, she reached up and smoothed her fingers over his mouth again, strangely unable to bear the strain she saw drawing at it so painfully.
“What do you want?” she asked him, whisper soft, creating a cloud of intimacy around them with her gestures of kindness. Dae knew he understood she was not a kind person. Not that she liked to show, at least.
Magnus raised a hand to her face, his thumb tracking over her lower lip slowly as he cupped her jaw in his palm. Here, he thought, was temptation in its glory. Its finest moment. Even though she showed the discoloration from the guard striking her, she had symmetry to her features that drew attention to her sleekly beautiful eyes, their sultry tilt such a flirtation. And the perfect foil was her mouth with its curvy, succulent lips.
“I want to trust you,” he admitted, though it was a hard, harsh thing to do. “And I am afraid I won’t be able to.”
“Because of the bitch that bit you?”
That made him smile for some reason. He supposed it was the way she stripped the bullshit away from everything and laid it all out the way it was. He could get used to that. Although he wasn’t sure about the rest of Sanctuary.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“Well, just keep in mind, I’m a whole new kind of bitch, okay? And I won’t bite unless one of two things happens.”
“First, you don’t ever try to cut my balls off just so you can be top dog over me. I won’t do it to you if you don’t do it to me. We’ll figure out some way of doing this on equal footing. Okay?”
“I can live with that. Give me room for some minor screw-ups?”
“Very minor,” she warned.