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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Now he had chemistry in spades.
Damn it to Light.
The only time Daenaira let him come close to her was during fight training. Gods, the girl was crazy about fight training. He’d finally found a way to make her happy, and she was eating up every single minute of it ever since he had insisted she start. But she took the classes and battled her partners and, although he taught her how to stand and how to move, she wouldn’t allow him to touch her. Gods! She even let Killian touch her! She had grown to like the guard she now affectionately referred to as a horse’s ass, somehow making him laugh in agreement every time; this in spite of the severity of the penance Magnus had made him pay for his insolence. The priest had asked Daenaira to clarify what had set her off, for the sake of measuring Killian’s punishment. When she had quietly and dispassionately told him that Killian had threatened to strip her in public, Magnus had quickly excused himself.
Then, rather than seeking Killian out and killing him in twenty different ways, he had promptly challenged Sagan to a practice session.
Sagan was uninterested in any power that didn’t come from his own body or the physical skills of another, which was why Magnus found him more trustworthy than most. Unlike Shiloh, who was constantly jockeying for Magnus’s position or the placement of heir to that position, Sagan wanted only to bring justice to Sinners and penance to those in need of it. Otherwise, he wanted to work his body and skills to the wall, and would tear through a chain of sparring partners every single day in the process. When Magnus had approached him, his smile had been positively feral with his acceptance of the challenge.
They had made a regular appointment of it every day since.
Sagan was probably aware that Magnus was purging demons. He was perhaps even aware that he was purging one redheaded demon in specific. However, to his credit, he never once brought up a personal question about it. That was something else he liked about the other priest. Sagan disliked people nosing into his business, especially as pertained to his lack of a handmaiden, so he never gave anyone cause to go tit for tat with him on personal matters. He kept the door firmly shut, minding his own business. It was exactly what Magnus needed.
Well, not exactly.
Exactly what he needed was to take a little spitfire in hand and prove to her it was worth her while to give him another chance.
However, he didn’t see himself being very successful at that if he couldn’t even manage to keep himself sane after only a week of getting a very cold shoulder from her. How in Light was this ever going to work? Her role with him was supposed to help ease his existence, not tangle it up into knots! And how was she going to carry out half her duties if she was determined not to come near him? Gods, how was he going to even train her for them?
But the clever minx was already a step ahead of him, it seemed. She had ferreted out two handmaidens to spend her time with when she wasn’t in classes. Hera was one of them. Like the queenly goddess she was named after, Hera had the experience and wisdom to guide Dae in every way possible. She also had a certain cunning to her that, quite frankly, Daenaira had plenty of already. She hardly needed further lessons in that curriculum.
Dae’s second choice had been a bit more enigmatic. She had chosen to befriend the recently shamed and outcast Tiana, M’jan Cort’s handmaiden. The shocking defection of Cort’s loyalties against Magnus had thrown suspicion on his handmaiden, and forgiveness had been in short supply in the temple. Even Magnus confessed he was wary when Dae spent time alone with the seemingly unfortunate girl Cort had left behind. She had always seemed sweet and unassuming, but then again, so had Karri. What if she was really a part of the bigger picture of deception? Magnus wanted to think the disease of corruption had been eradicated along with Cort and Daniel, but he knew bone deep that this was not the case.
So for the most part, Daenaira had begun to settle in quite nicely.
Magnus, however, was still quite firmly in the doghouse.
And he had started to dream again.
Visions. Half of them confusing images of fear and violence, a sense of horrible loss that woke him in a cold sweat. The other half of them soaked with lust and need, the scent of sweet cream, and the heat of wet divinity clutching around his fingers, his tongue, and his cock. When he woke from these dreams he was shaking, but he was anything but cold. His body would be screaming in an agony of demand. He had quickly learned not to take relief by his own hand because it only seemed to make matters worse. If he did that, he would fall asleep and it would begin all over again. If he suffered through it, he would remain awake, but he could eventually calm himself and distract himself with the work of daily living.
Yet she slept peacefully for, no doubt, the first time in years. Knowing that, he could not bring himself to begrudge her well-deserved rest. He had even begun to accept Drenna’s messages as a comeuppance equally well deserved. He had apparently been in need of some humility, because he seemed to be getting it in large doses of late. No doubt it was in answer to his having allowed the house of the gods to swing so far out into the land of corrupt behavior.
He wanted to fix this mess. The temple. All of Sanctuary. And most of all, he wanted to fix things between himself and Daenaira. He wished he could say it was purely lust and physical need that drove this desire, something a great deal of frantic and passionate lovemaking could sate and satisfy, but despite all of the torturous dreams in his sleep, it was her pain and accusatory anger toward him that was destroying him. Knowing he had thrown away her offer to relearn trust together was a wound on his conscience and his soul.
Magnus’s thoughts were interrupted by a tapping at his door. He straightened, taking a deep breath and trying to find a relaxed stance.
He knew the minute he saw his son enter the room that things were not about to get any better, so he sighed.
“Trace,” he warned.
Trace had darkened his doorstep every single night for the past week, making his feelings about Daenaira repetitively known. He didn’t trust her. He dreaded her having free access to Magnus’s throat as he slept. He felt she was damaged and unstable. Magnus had bordered on reminding him that both he and his new bride had both matched those descriptors until recently. Trace had suffered nearly a year of torture at the hands of a vicious and deadly woman named Acadian, after he had been taken prisoner during the wars. It had taken all of the years since for him to finally fully recover, the last step only taking place when he had met Ashla. Ashla herself was plagued with memories of a twisted parent who had raised her to believe she was a devil, when in fact she had been the product of her human mother’s illicit affair with a Shadowdweller male. It had taken Trace’s kindred spirit to help guide her to a new life with the other half of her heritage. Together they had taken broken pieces and glued them into a whole.
Trace was, unfortunately, still very prejudiced toward women. He had difficulty trusting them, and Karri’s deceptions had not helped matters. After seeing Daenaira’s viciousness in a fight, and still shaken by Magnus’s poisoning, Trace had become determined to convince his father to shed the danger she represented.
“Trace, go home. Go home to your wife and your king, both of whom need your advice far more than I do,” he said wearily. Magnus sat down behind his desk as dismissively as possible.
“M’jan, I need you to come to the palace.”
Magnus looked up at his son quickly, the tension he heard in his voice raising every kind of alarm.
“What is it?”
“I wish I could tell you. Tristan calls for you but will not tell me why. Malaya is beside herself with worry for her brother. She knows it is not like him to turn to his religion to solve his troubles. Yet Tristan has demanded you come to him. He will not exit his rooms, nor will he let anyone else but Xenia attend him.”
Magnus was already on his feet, snaring his katana as he passed. “I have to fetch Dae.”
Trace stopped short from following him out. “Her? What for?”
Magnus turned slowly back to his son, his eyes narrowing to warn Trace that his disrespectful tone was treading on dangerous ground. “Tristan calls for his priest. She is my handmaiden. Where I go, she goes. Having been raised in Sanctuary, you know this.”
Of course he did. They both were well aware of that. Magnus was only reiterating it to give his son opportunity to rectify his manner.
“Yes, M’jan,” he said quietly, respectful, albeit not pleased about it.
Content, Magnus turned back to the corridor and hurried to find his handmaiden. She had been practicing in the training hall, but she should be in her religious instruction class at present. Magnus turned into the education section of the building and found Hera’s lecture hall. He walked into the room, stopping short in surprise when the room was empty, save for Hera herself.
“Greetings, M’jan. How may I help you?”
“I’m sorry, K’yan, I thought you were holding class now. I was looking for Daenaira.”
K’yan Hera stood up behind her desk very slowly, meeting his gaze as she straightened her spine. Magnus felt the bottom drop out of his stomach as instinct told him he wasn’t going to like what he was about to hear.
“I do not have a class at this time, M’jan. Dae has been taking private instruction from me for her religious studies at a different time.”
“I see,” he said carefully.
She had lied to him. Every day she had attended practice and then, she had said, religious instruction. It had never once occurred to him to second-guess her, and since he was not in charge of the class scheduling, he hadn’t realized there was no class.
“Thank you, K’yan.”
Magnus turned to go, but at the last moment he caught sight of Hera clasping one hand nervously in the other. The woman was steady as a rock. A tell like that was not like her. Magnus turned back.
“Something you would like to share, K’yan?” He offered her an opportunity.
She sighed. “Please, don’t be angry, M’jan Magnus. Daenaira meant no harm.”
“K’yan, my patience and my time are growing short,” he warned her.
“She is…on the first floor in the relations lecture.”
Magnus didn’t need a repeat; he was just so shocked and furious that he couldn’t contain his reaction. The relations lecture. The early-hours version of his sexual intercourse lecture! Except Brendan was the instructor for that session.
Magnus was in the hallway in an explosive instant.
“Trace, go to Tristan and tell him I will be there within the hour,” he instructed sharply. Whatever happened next, he didn’t need his foster child looking on in cold disapproval.
Trace was well aware he was being dismissed, and he wasn’t happy about it, but he figured that he was superfluous at this point. Apparently, Daenaira was busy digging her own hole and didn’t need any help from him.
Magnus ran down to the second floor and spied the glass dome leading down into the main lecture hall. There were two students standing there watching the lecture below. He strode up to the rail and looked down, wanting to get a look at the layout so he knew right where to retrieve her. The way his temper was brewing, he didn’t want to be in that room any longer than he had to be. He didn’t need any witnesses to his anger.
What he saw brought a swift and murderous end to that intention.
“Bituth amec!” he spat, startling both students.
Daenaira was lying on the thrice-damned bed!
Her sari had been removed, leaving her in her velvet blouse and the thin underskirt. She was sprawled over the bed on her belly, her cheek resting on her folded hands and her unbound hair streaming down her shoulders and back. She had her eyes closed and was smiling like a contented cat. Magnus felt his heart seizing as he raced to fill in the blanks as to what would cause the appearance of the sly smile he hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of in seven damn days. He gripped the railing, the wood creaking under the strain of his growing wrath.
“Okay then. We have our willing participant.” Brendan’s voice carried up to him. Magnus watched as the younger man moved up to the bed and slowly began to survey and circle his prey. His willing prey. “Men,” he continued, “are inherently visual creatures. It’s pretty much a constant across the races. We can become aroused by just the sight of a beautiful woman lying in our beds, waiting.”
Brendan grinned when Dae lifted her head to stick her tongue out at him. The rest of the class snickered at the teasing interplay. The priest moved to kneel on the bed with one knee, indicating the woman before him.
“Women are different creatures entirely. They are more cerebral and, by far, more tactile.”
If he touches her, I’m going to fucking kill him.
Magnus became aware he was being watched and he jerked his head to meet the stares of the students. “Get to class!” he snarled at them.
“But, M’jan, we don’t have—”
“I suggest you find one!”
Without further argument, they beat a very hasty retreat, allowing Magnus to look back into the room below. He should be running. He should rip the doors off that room and tear her off that bed—or better yet, he should make her scream in pleasure for the next three lectures! If she wanted to play the role of a sexual model, he’d be damn happy to oblige her!
“Now, I look at Daenaira and I can see what I like, and just like that”—Brendan snapped his fingers—“we have achieved foreplay for a man.” It was said tongue-in-cheek, and the class laughed. Magnus, however, was not amused. “But guys, we have to rewind. Our ladies do not warm up so quickly. So what I recommend is that you very slowly consider each of those visual things you enjoy, and brainstorm on how to turn it into what I like to call a tactile tactical advantage. And please, for the time being, let’s eliminate our obvious favorites: the right, the left, and the in-between.” Brendan flirted with death as he made gestured references to each of her breasts and her sex. “Let’s start with the reason I picked Dae, since she has such a gorgeous asset.”