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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Holy Light,” Trace swore. Too late the vizier realized some of Killian’s coworkers had been watching his antics, and the instant the girl attacked, they lunged for her. It was their job, after all, to stop aggressions, fights, and anyone who attacked anyone policing the city. Trace realized how ugly this could get and quickly rushed forward. Not fast enough by far as she punched one guard in his teeth and in the same back movement elbowed another in his eye. She’d stunned three good fighters in three seconds, and he stumbled when she ruthlessly caught the next one between his legs with such brutal force he could see the man’s feet lift off the ground.
Trace was still recovering his balance when he saw his father appear out of nowhere, grabbing the hellion by the arm and barely jerking back in time to let her fist blow past his cheek. Then, as if they were dancing, he spun the woman around by her arm in a full pivot, just about 360 degrees, her torn dress spinning tightly against her legs. It was an attempt to throw her off balance and to disorient her, but she recovered with remarkable alacrity, turning on his father with such a rush of savagery that, for the first time, Trace doubted his father’s ability to meet her without injury even though she was, as yet, unarmed!
“Dae!” Magnus shouted the word in her face, plucking her out of the air as she rushed him. He forced her to look at him and shook her as he yelled at her again. “Dae! Stop!”
And, she did. Like an animated toy suddenly reaching the end of its pulled string, she stopped and blinked at the priest as if she were waking up from a nap. Trace ran up on them, still gripping his katana anxiously. The world reeled a little farther on its axis for him when he saw his father drag the little savage up against himself and caught steady hold of her lips against his own.
Daenaira had seen nothing but red from the instant she’d struck Killian. Everything else had blurred and spun into a cloud of rage and fury until familiar hands had caught her and a hard voice whipped her to attention. Then he was kissing her gently, like he had no right to do after he had treated her so badly. But the beautiful red anger melted away from her and left her hollow and alone to face the pure tenderness of his kiss. She tried to call it back, swinging a fist into his shoulder and punching him hard, but he only pulled her closer and made her melt like softened butter against him. She hit him with her other fist, although there was no power to it as weakness washed through her until she could barely stand on her own. Her chest burned with pain and betrayal, with lies and abuse, with the weakness of emotions she had never needed before and damn well didn’t want now.
Magnus lifted from her trembling mouth just far enough to whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Trace was trying to absorb the shockingly incongruous picture of his father the priest kissing a woman off the street as if he were her lover. His father would never break temple law! There was only one woman with whom he could be intimate. Religious law demanded it. As he represented the goddess, the handmaiden represented the god. Only these two divine forces could be a match to one another. His Darkness to her Light, his serenity to her fire. He was safe and steady, a constant and natural state, and she was wild and unpredictable and disruptive. She was…
“Holy Light,” Trace whispered.
She was his handmaiden.
Trace stared at the inconceivable image for a long, unflinching minute. This little dervish of fury was his father’s new handmaiden? This was the woman he was sleeping so close to every night? This woman was the creature Magnus was going to try to trust in the wake of the disaster with Karri?
Even more shocking, if there was such a thing, he was actually being intimate with her? Karri had turned on Magnus, striking him down with a hissing vengeance, because his father had not shown her any passion in all of their time together. She had confessed to that just before dying, slapping Magnus’s private existence out in the open for all to see. Was his father doing this now so that he didn’t find himself with another viper at his breast? It wasn’t like his father to change who he was and what his convictions were out of fear. No. He would be the last to ever do such a thing.
Trace was at a loss. The one thing that was perfectly clear to him, however, was that he absolutely didn’t like this woman near his father. He’d already come too close to losing the man who had raised him, the only man he loved more than he loved his monarch, and he was infinitely loyal to Tristan both heart and soul.
Daenaira was going to cry. Damn him! It wasn’t okay! He couldn’t just kiss her and make her melt and think that was going to make everything all better! She was too exhausted and too upset to deal with any of this right now. She never cried and she wasn’t going to start now!
“No, honey, don’t,” he coaxed softly as he brushed tender fingers across her face so sweetly it made her ache inside. “Don’t leave me. I know. I know I’m destroying everything, doing it all wrong, but please…don’t go from me.”
“Why? You don’t need me, remember?” she flung back at him, gritting her teeth when his eyes flickered with an almost imperceptible flinch. “You don’t want me. I was forced down your throat.”
“Drenna, stop!” Magnus wrenched out, forcing her to stop by covering her mouth with his own. He couldn’t stand to hear the cruel things he had said to her, even though he knew he deserved the pain of it and more. Penance. He deserved the harshest penance for what he had wrought today. “Hate me, if you will, but do not leave. Make me repent to you, sweet K’yindara. Make me earn back what I want to deserve. It doesn’t have to be anything more than your friendship in the end if that’s all you want to give, but I’m begging you not to leave me without giving me the chance to fix this mess I’ve made.”
The one thing that made her hesitate, besides the incredible desperation she felt radiating off him, was that she knew in her soul how intensely private a man Magnus was. But he hadn’t dragged her off to Sanctuary and asked her behind closed doors to forgive him. He was humbling himself in public to her, even though her actions had drawn a curious crowd.
She bit her lip with heavy doubt. She didn’t trust him. He would be so sweet, and then suddenly he would be hurtful and cruel. How stupid would she have to be to think that would change? Was she some kind of glutton for punishment just to be thinking about it?
“Let go of me.” She said it on a whisper, but it was cool and clear as she was looking into his golden gaze. “And this time you never, ever touch me without my permission, or I will break your fingers.”
In silent agreement, Magnus released her, letting her step free. He looked up to see the crowd around them and found himself staring dead into his son’s troubled eyes. Breaking the contact quickly, Magnus turned to reach a helping hand toward Killian, who was stunned and more than a little embarrassed as he staggered to his feet.
“What the fuck was that?” he demanded furiously. He made as if to approach Daenaira, but Magnus’s hard, immovable hand in the center of his chest stopped him cold.
“I believe K’yan Daenaira was merely expressing her feelings about being touched by strangers,” Magnus said pointedly.
“K’yan?” Killian paled under his racial coloring, his eyes darting from the sexy little spitfire standing half naked in public, and back to the priest. This meant that Killian had unwittingly put his hands on a holy woman. He had also taunted and flirted with her with no show of respect for her position in the eyes of the gods. “Magnus, she never said a word! I had no idea. I would never do that!” Then the guard swallowed hard as he realized something else, his brain a bit slower after being kicked around inside his head. “She’s yours?”
Bad enough to disrespect a handmaiden; worse to disrespect the handmaiden of the most powerful man in the temple. Whichever way it was looked at, it was a punishable offense. It didn’t matter whether she had identified herself or not. Even the plainest woman should be able to walk the street without feeling threatened or accosted. Killian had stepped over the line and he knew it.
There would be penance to pay.
Trace flinched at the embarrassment and horror of Killian’s predicament, acknowledging his part in the whole mess and feeling damn guilty about it. He had expected Killian would be assertive, maybe get snubbed or, at worst, smacked across his face before his target stormed off in a huff, but he had never expected this.
“Magnus, this is just a really bad misunderstanding.” He spoke up, feeling terrible for goading his friend.
“Yes,” the priest said with flat cool. “One that got physical. Would your friend care to repeat what he said that made Daenaira feel she had to hit him?”
Killian flushed with a dreadful guilt, his gaze jolting to Dae’s and clearly begging her not to repeat it in the open. It soundly confirmed what Magnus had already known with utter confidence; he knew Dae wouldn’t ever hurt someone without good cause. She had been the target of too much senseless violence to randomly dispense it herself. Magnus had no doubt Killian had deserved what he got. The trouble had come when Daenaira hadn’t been able to stop. She hadn’t been able to halt her actions, step back, raise her hands, and explain her measures reasonably to the other guards.
Daenaira, Magnus realized, had the fighting instincts of a berserker. For her, once battle began, it didn’t stop until she no longer felt threatened. This, Magnus understood, was the heart of her third power. Every Shadowdweller could blend in with and skip across connecting shadows, and every ’Dweller could Fade, but sometimes a Shadowdweller was born with an uncanny third power. An example was his ability to compel truth from others. Or his son’s impressive ability to skip shadows that weren’t even connected; a line-of-sight teleportation between patches of darkness.
Every priest and handmaiden had a third power. Those who were born with a third power often became one or the other. When they didn’t choose religion or get chosen by it, they tended to become very powerful people in their world. Magnus had wondered what her power would be, and he hadn’t had the chance to ask her if she even knew what it was. If this wrathful power of combat could be tempered, he thought, it would mean Drenna had sent him an amazing gift. A woman and a weapon, both of which would be invaluable at his side as he executed his tasks as a penance priest. The trick, though, was figuring out how to control her. How, as a weapons smith, could he shape her into something as beautiful and deadly as he knew she could be? How could he counter the cold rage that was inside a woman who trusted no one and believed in nothing?
Magnus closed his eyes briefly as the painful understanding struck him. Drenna had not sent her to him because he had needed her; She had sent her because Daenaira had needed him. Darkness had entrusted this raw and unique creature to him so he could use the kindness, patience, and wisdom he was renowned for to help her. But, still bitter and damaged from Karri, he had failed to serve her as he had been expected to.
Daenaira took pity on Killian, although she didn’t express it as such. She sharply turned away from the gathering and strode back toward Sanctuary.
“I think we’re done here. Killian,” Magnus said distinctly, “I will see you tomorrow an hour past daybreak.”
There was no need to say anything more. Everyone knew what that tone and that appointment meant. To his credit, Killian took comfort in knowing he could compensate for his mistakes. He touched his hand to his heart and gave Magnus a respectful bow.
Seven nights.He hadn’t touched her in seven nights.
Magnus paced the privacy of his office with stiff steps, his usual smooth ease of movement nowhere to be found as tension racked his body so tightly he was astounded his bones didn’t snap. He had stripped off his weapons belt and thrown it over the back of a chair, his beloved katana hanging almost sadly in a sheath it wasn’t meant to be in. The wood of the previous one had warped, as he had expected, and he wasn’t about to put his fine blade in an imperfect sheath. However, the new one was plain and serviceable, not fully suited to the magnificence of the katana. Every time he looked at the thing, he wanted to seek out its now-warped companion and set it to the impertinent backside of the woman who had destroyed it, just as he had promised he would.
At least it would be an excuse to touch her.
Magnus groaned as he came up on his desk. He set his fists on the marble surface and leaned his weight on locked arms, hanging his head in an attempt to stretch out the knot that seemed permanently wrapped around his neck and tied into place between his shoulders.
He was obsessed.
Like the fabled fox staring with pathetic longing at the unattainable grapes, he was craving the impossible. The fact of it was he had fouled up so badly that there was no compensating for it. There was no penance. He had never thought he would ever be capable of something like that, but he had been. Worse, he feared it went to a depth that also included Karri. He couldn’t have been wrong about that sweet, adoring nature for two whole centuries. She had borne his rejections and her loneliness one too many times, and someone had taken advantage of that. So soft-spoken and accommodating, Karri had never thought to rail at him as she had become angry and, eventually, felt betrayed by his coldness toward her when she had so clearly needed more. She had been ripe for the plucking, a crafty thief taking the opportunity to steal away her loyalties by inciting her anger and keeping her wounded pride sliced wide open and bleeding.
And Magnus had done nothing to stand in the way of it. He had remained ignorant up until the instant he had collapsed from the poison coursing through his veins. Her aborted seduction that day, he believed now, had been her last attempt at salvaging what she had already thrown into the fire. But as much as he had cared for her, it had always been as a brother to a kid sister. He could have blamed it on the differences in their ages and the fact that she had become his handmaiden when his son had been the exact same age as she was, but the truth was there simply had not been that kind of chemistry.