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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Something wasn’t right.
How had he followed a trail if Daniel had been following behind him the whole time?
The answer came from behind as a vicious saw-star buzzed out of the snowfall, curving and striking him in his weapons belt, slicing the hardened leather half through and then sinking into his hip. Magnus went down, unable to help it, but as he did he snared the bolos from their pouch and flung them at Daniel. One ball whipped around and snagged the blade he held and the other lashed around the traitor’s throat. Daniel gagged in shock and Magnus lurched back onto his feet, lunging for him and grabbing hold of him as he ran him through back to front, the wicked sharp end of his katana bursting free of Daniel’s belly.
Daniel could only tell him the truth.
Drenna, it was almost daylight! The light cycle started at dawn!
But Magnus had another enemy to take care of, and he was badly wounded. He drew free of his victim’s body, listening carefully. Daniel hadn’t had a shuriken wound. That meant he’d hit the other attacker before. This had all been a setup. Brendan had flushed them out, all right, but they’d taken care of him right off. They knew Magnus was the real threat, so they had constructed this clever ruse, using his own abilities against him. He should have known better. Brendan wouldn’t have sent a go-between. But Magnus had been distracted…
Proving his point about sexual distraction between priest and maiden entirely.
Magnus wasn’t known for giving up on a fight, which, he realized, was why he had to do exactly that. His opponent was using his own nature against him, manipulating him to keep him occupied until dawn. Magnus could track this Sinner down again later, but Brendan needed help right now.
He was about to Unfade and run back through Realscape when he heard a gagging grunt in front of him. Blinded by snowfall, he listened carefully and heard the distinct sound of a body falling into deep snow. He heard a long sigh.
“Now can I use the heavy sai?”
Cort. She had killed Cort. Cort had been one of the most vicious hunters among them, not known for his ability to show mercy. But Daenaira had snuck up behind him as he had focused on Magnus and run the aforementioned heavy sai right through his spine at the shoulder junction. Using a sai as a stabbing weapon was hard enough, but to pick such a spot! However, Magnus knew she had done it because she had realized she had to kill or completely incapacitate with her first hit. Cort was too tall for her to reach the brain stem comfortably, and a heart shot might have missed. This way the shoulder blades had been her guide and Cort had been a quadriplegic before he’d hit the ground. No threat there any longer.He didn’t take the time to feel what he was going to feel about any of it, because he had run for hydroponics. Thankfully, Brendan was not badly wounded and they reached him before the light event began. Bren had no qualms about going to a healer, but Magnus refused. Leaving his friend at the infirmary, he left a trail of blood all through Sanctuary as he stormed back to their rooms with Daenaira walking behind him in deceptive obedience. The instant the door closed them off from the rest of Sanctuary, he rounded on her in cold fury.
“Are you out of your mind?” he roared at her. “You do not follow me to battle until I say you are ready to do so! Not one instant sooner!” He was vibrating with rage as he made like he was going to grab her and shake her, but as livid as he was, he remembered not to touch her. Especially in violence.
Dae didn’t say a word, which surprised and confused him. She just stood there absently toying with the remaining sai, spinning it in her fingertips. Then she tossed the weapon on her bed and reached for his hand. Catching hold, she pulled him into the bathroom.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” he demanded of her.
Magnus blinked. Then he watched dumbly as she reached to unfasten his weapons belt. She freed it, easing it away from the saw-star embedded in his hip, and then she dropped it onto the cushioned bench behind him. She reached for his regular belt next, deftly making short work of it before sliding the leather free. She quickly moved on to his priest’s tunic, but he was too tall while he was standing, so he did it for her. She reached for his pants and he closed his hand around hers.
“What are you doing?” he asked at last.
“My job. You’re wounded. These need stitching and you need to bathe. That all falls under ‘handmaiden.’”
“You don’t have to do this. I haven’t even had a chance to teach you…”
“What? I know how to stitch and I can give a bath. What’s to teach? It’s not like it’s sex technique.”
Damn her, her blatant tease made him smile in spite of being mad enough to spit nails. He let go of her slowly and she undid his slacks as efficiently as if she undressed men all the time. Very carefully, she followed the fabric to his hip and eased the cloth over the remaining jut of the metal. The embedded star was shaped like the circular saw it had won its name from in both appearance and sound when it was thrown. It looked deep and painful, not to mention that he was streaming blood from the wound.
She stepped behind him and slid her hands down over the muscular curve of his backside and on to his thigh, inspecting the nasty little throwing dagger that penetrated the thick muscle. She reached for the wrist blade up her left sleeve, the wickedly sharp steel slipping into the hole in his slacks and cutting them sharp and fast toward his waist. Once she had enough freedom to keep from accidentally dislodging the blade in his leg, she returned to his waist and, after replacing her knife, she slowly dipped her fingertips below his waistline against his skin, drawing down his pants and underwear until she could ease past the dagger.
Daenaira was working with a smooth efficiency, as if she did this all the time, but it was really her bravado and her determination to repay him for his efforts in her defense that made it seem so. The wounds were terrible and disturbing, yes, but it was also strangely disturbing to run her fingers down over hard, heated muscle under smooth dark skin. She tried to shake off the impression as she worked the laces of his boots free and helped him step out of the rest of his clothes.
On her knees on the floor, Dae slowly looked up over the tall, magnificently sculpted body before her. Taut dark skin, dusted in curling black hairs, displayed just how beautifully physical he was. From the gold and amethyst armband locked tight around bulging biceps, to the half-sun and half-moon tattoo in the low curve of his back, and on to the steady brace of his feet, there wasn’t a single ounce of lazy flesh to be found. A roadwork of veins ran beneath his skin, over and around each distinctive muscle, leading up to the pulse she could see in his throat even from where she was kneeling.
Dae slowly got to her feet and walked around in front of him. Magnus was already searching for her eyes, studying her as if to read her mind. She didn’t give him the opportunity, not knowing how transparent her admiration of his gorgeous physique was and not wanting him to get the wrong idea. After all, she was allowed to appreciate a beautiful male form. She had not seen many of them—well, not of late. And certainly not naked. When she had admired the soldiers in the bar at age twelve, it had been hero worship at its finest. She hadn’t known what “sexy” was.
She realized she did now.
Dae walked out of the room quickly and invaded his weapons supplies. She found a pair of pliers and thread and a needle. He would fight infection and heal on his own quickly enough, but stitching would halt the flow of blood and help facilitate the healing process.
She came back and caught up his hand, moving him closer to the padded bench. Then she sat down and, laying her hands on his hips, she turned him toward her until she was facing down the evil saw-star. Dae ignored all of the blood, though it didn’t bother her much, but what she found herself most distracted by was finding herself practically eye level with his penis and the nest of black curling hair it rested against. She had seen naked men before, and penises in various sizes or states of excitement, the most recent being Killian, the male model from his lecture. Because of this variety, she thought she was competent enough to judge just how incredibly big Magnus was.
And she was fairly certain he wasn’t in the least bit excited.
Grabbing the pliers, she snared the exposed edge of the saw-star and looked up at him briefly.
He took her literally, his hand falling onto her shoulder even as she felt him brace for the inevitable. Locking her free hand on his hip for counterforce, she yanked on the star with all of her strength, turning at the same time counter to the curve of the blades so they would slide out more than tear out of the bone.
Magnus made a savage sound inside his chest, staggering under the agony and the force of her pull. He clamped down on her shoulder unthinkingly, but she figured it was nothing in comparison to what she was doing to him. It took two more pulls before the nasty thing ripped free, spraying them both in his blood.
Magnus’s legs gave out, but she anticipated it a second beforehand and was there against his body and supporting him as she helped him to his knees.
“Gods and fucking Light,” he gasped, his hand catching hard against the floor as he bent forward.
“It’s okay. It’s out now. The worst is over,” she said soothingly, hating the torturous pain ravaging his darkly handsome features. They both knew it was half a lie because she had to stitch him yet before he lost any more blood. Her new sari was absorbing most of it at the moment as she leaned into his side on her knees. “You should lie down on your side,” she urged him.
He was in no space for arguing. Magnus was barely even coherent as pain and nausea raged through him with a vengeance. The next minutes passed in a haze for him, but finally he began to regain himself, the touch of Dae’s hand in his hair helping to rouse him out of his pained stupor.
“It’s over,” she whispered softly into his ear. “Both wounds are done.”
Magnus had no idea how long she had tended to him, but he had begun to feel well enough to sit himself up, albeit using her soft shape to lean on.
“M’jan, we have to get rid of this blood. I don’t know about you, but it’s starting to get pretty icky for me.”
He exhaled a soft laugh and nodded. Getting his uninjured leg under himself, as well as his sturdy little handmaiden, Magnus was able to approach the stairs into the bath. He took the first step down, blood clouding into the water before disappearing.
“Wait,” she said, urging him to sit on the edge of the bath after two more steps. Then she drew back and stripped away the fall of her sari. She was standing calves deep in the water, so her skirts were already wet, but that hardly hampered her as she shed her velvet blouse and the underskirt next.
Magnus watched her turn to lay her clothing on the near ledge, her lush body a curving line of mocha skin that was completely nude…save for the weapons still strapped to her wrists. There was something primal and erotic about that, seeing soft, sexual femininity and sculpted, tempered steel strapped in leather. Perhaps it was the weapons smith in him that made it seem that way. She unwrapped the sheaths from her arms and set them aside, and then she dipped her bloodstained hands in the hot water and washed them clean. She looked up at him and smiled, reaching to brush back her red-black hair where it had escaped the cobra knot she kept it in. Magnus moved forward into the water, letting his natural buoyancy help him balance as he came closer to her and took her hand, drawing her down into the deeper part of the pool. Then he reached up for her hair, disengaging the pins and clips until the thick mass was untwisting through his fingers.
“I don’t know if you noticed,” he said quietly, “but handmaidens always wear their hair loose in Sanctuary.”
“Why? Priests don’t.”
His lips twitched at that. “You are right about that. I only meant to say it is tradition.” He drew the thick mass of sleek crimped waves down over her shoulders and breasts. “Consider it part of your uniform. Besides, you have unique and stunning hair.”
“Stunning?” she echoed. She snorted out her characteristic giggle. “I think you’re suffering from severe blood loss.”
“Hmm. And I think you don’t know how to accept a compliment.”
Daenaira backed away from his touch, walking through the water slowly to reach the alcove of shelves nearby that held all of his bathing accoutrements. She picked up a firmly bristled skin brush and a bar of soap that smelled rich and masculine, and rubbed one against the other as she moved back toward him.
“I’m not exactly used to them,” she pointed out.
“No, I don’t suppose you would be,” he agreed, watching the way the water flowed past her hips as she moved. Through the clear liquid he could see the triangle of tight curls protecting her sex from his curious eyes. He wondered if they also had that deep tinge of red to them. “I think we’ll have to start changing that.”
“I don’t need compliments,” she said with a shrug as she came right up to him, close enough that she had to tilt her head back to meet his eyes again. “I just need to be safe, clothed, fed, and free.”
“Nothing more?” he asked as she handed him the soap to hold for her and touched the brush to the skin of his chest.
“Nothing I can think of at the moment.”
“What about companionship?”
She didn’t respond right away, instead focusing on the swirling strokes of the brush she was using. She was moving slowly and thoroughly, sometimes very lightly, other times a bit harder. Magnus felt his skin waking up beneath the stimulation, the feeling brisk and invigorating. She covered his chest and arms, cleaning his hands and fingers of any blood. She worked her way along his sides and stomach, and Magnus felt the dipping stroke of the brush straight through his gut and racing down his legs.