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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“He is afraid she will agree to it.”
Magnus saw Tristan jolt tellingly and knew Daenaira had hit it on the head when the royal narrowed a glare on her and said defensively, “I am not afraid of anything.”
“Then you would be the first,” she observed dryly. “We all have fears. M’itisume knows his sister is a woman of tradition and respect, and you fear she will decide to take a husband who will find a place between your close relationship.” Dae stepped a little closer, though not much; just enough to hide her face from her male counterpart. “You are afraid of the change. Afraid she might forget you as she turns to the interests of a new family. Everyone knows how extraordinarily close you are to K’yatsume, how deeply you love her. My mother owned a tavern when I was young, and the soldiers I met there raised me on the stories of the war. I would hear about how like a ballet, a pas de deux, it was to watch you in battle together. It inspired and amazed battle-hardened men who would tell a starry-eyed girl that it was because you had such perfect love for each other. It was the loyalty, devotion, and love they themselves followed. And yes, you are worried that it will disrupt your power and position, but I think for the first time you are more afraid it will disrupt that perfect love.
“So you are taking this time of hesitation to push her away first. Women. Amusement. Alcohol. Petulance. Behaviors she will frown on and, coincidentally, will force her to focus her attention onto you. But you’re foolish if you think she won’t see through you soon enough, and when she does she is going to be livid. No woman likes to have her emotions toyed with, or to be treated like she is too stupid to be informed fully about things that directly affect her life. Most of all, your lack of trust and faith in her is going to be devastating to her. It devastates me,” she said, laying her hand on her heart with passionate hurt, “because I am still at heart the little girl in that tavern who loves to believe in the brother and sister who are like one because they have perfect love in one another. But it isn’t even close to perfect if you can’t trust it to stand on its own merit. Not if you have to try and control it and play games to try and shape it to your will. This doesn’t save it, it destroys it. And it certainly does not protect or save you.”
Daenaira wound down from her impassioned scolding of their king, and then, as if suddenly realizing where she was and who she was with, she lowered her eyes and stepped back awkwardly.
“Excuse me, please,” she murmured softly, raising a hand to shield her expression as she hurried out the door.
Magnus stared after her for a long, frowning moment, his instinct to follow her almost overwhelming him. But he forced himself to turn back to Tristan, who didn’t look any happier than Magnus felt.
“Shit,” he groaned. “That was my mistake all along. I should have asked a woman!”
“Yep.” Xenia finally spoke up, pushing away from the wall and walking toward the door as well. “Trouble with men is they spend so much time misusing our true potential that they just end up causing themselves twice the work and twice the grief in the long run. But lucky for you, we enjoy forgiving you for being a little dense. It reminds us we’re the superior sex and that you’d be lost boys without us.”
“Spoken like a true Amazon,” Tristan shot after her as she exited the bedroom. “Aiya,” he sighed, “now she’s going to be smug for a week. Do you have any idea what it’s like having a smug woman around who can kick the shit out of you if you’re not careful?”
“Umm.” It was Magnus’s turn to slyly smile. “I think I can conceive of that, yes.”
“Thank you for your help, Daenaira. You made a significant impact on Tristan’s situation.”“Did I?” she asked, sounding a bit distracted as she walked back to Sanctuary beside him without looking at him. “I’m glad if it helped. Has he decided what to do?”
“Yes. He will tell her himself within the next twenty-four hours, which no doubt means we will be making this walk again very soon. Malaya depends on us greatly for guidance and religious clarity.”
“I know. You’ve been to see her almost every day this week. But you did not take me then,” she noted.
Magnus couldn’t decide if she was feeling slighted by that fact. She was being very unreadable at the moment. He didn’t understand what was bothering her. She should be proud of the progress she had achieved while helping a follower. Especially a follower of such significance to their society.
“Malaya and I have always taken a private audience together. She prefers it that way. You are welcome to come, but you will only be left to wait alone while we converse.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to be your happy little joiner,” she said sharply. “Obviously you realized my time was better spent in Sanctuary. That’s all you had to say.”
Magnus stopped short, holding out a hand to stay her since he didn’t want to touch her. “Would you please tell me what was so wrong with what I just said that you had to be so nasty?”
She huffed a laugh and rolled her eyes. “It figures you’d have no clue.”
“Apparently not! That is why I am asking. If I am ever to get back into your good graces, I need to figure out the things I am doing that so offend you!”
“Okay then,” she shot out, her hands dropping onto her waist, “how about that you just treated me like a child again?”
“I did no such thing!”
She threw up her hands in exasperation and marched into Sanctuary. Magnus stepped quickly after her and stopped her sharply by stepping into her path.
“Magnus!” she warned.
“How? How did I treat you like a child?”
She cocked her head, tapping her foot in temper for a moment. “Try this.” She pitched her voice softly and bent as if speaking to an imaginary child. “Aww, honey. I’m sorry, but you can’t come with Mommy. Mommy has to do grown-up things. If I take you with me, you’ll just be bored.” She stood up straight and cocked a brow at him.
Light and damnation.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said with a frown.
“Then you need to learn to say what you do mean, because at this rate we’re in big trouble.”
She walked around him and continued on her way.
For ten seconds. Then he was there again, this time crowding her a bit. “All right then, since we’re airing grievances. What in cold burning Light were you doing in Brendan’s relations lecture?”
“That is self-explanatory.”
“Why would you take the class from someone else knowing I teach the same thing later in the night?” He didn’t want to sound petulant, but he supposed he did. He looked around, but the corridor was fairly empty.
“Again, self-explanatory. I didn’t want to take instruction from a man who pisses me off so damn much!”
“You lied to me!” he accused with a hiss. “You said you were with Hera. Do you have any idea the trouble you could have caused yourself by going into that room without proper preparation?”
“So I didn’t know a few rules. Big freaking deal.” She sniffed, the brush off making his blood boil.
“Oh, it is a very big deal, K’yindara,” he promised her, leaning in close to engage her ear at a whisper but not touching her. “The way you were practically purring in my lap, it would have been so simple to reach around you and fill my hands with these luscious breasts of yours, and I guarantee you that you wouldn’t have reacted badly to it at all. And the very instant you moaned softly or your nipples contracted to beg for my attention, we would have been committed to performing in that bed, class or no class, for the educational benefit of all who wanted to watch.”
“Without my permission?”
“Permission is implied at that point, K’yindara. You agreed to come to the bed, you agreed to engage in foreplay, and you would have agreed to the eroticism of the touch of my hands. In that bed, you are an exhibitionist. You choose what to exhibit. Brendan had no idea you were so raw and uninformed. There are rules here, K’yindara, that are distinctive to Sanctuary, and rules distinctive to specific rooms of Sanctuary. Before you run around behind my back doing things half-cocked, I suggest you discuss it with me first so I can keep you from walking into things accidentally! This is why you should be training with me instead of those who do not understand where you’ve come from!”
“Well, until you showed up, I didn’t have to worry because handmaidens can only sleep with their priests!” she snapped irritably, refusing to admit he might be right.
Daenaira drew in a soft sound of surprise. Her face flared with color and heat as she searched his tempestuous golden eyes to judge his legitimacy. “That’s not possible,” she whispered fiercely. “I’m a girl.” She looked nervously up and down the corridor as she scrubbed at one of her blushing cheeks.
Gods, she was raw. Worse, she was naïve and refused to admit it to anyone, including herself. He wanted to correct her misconception, one he was used to hearing from prepubescent girls, but he needed a moment to cool his temper. He eased away from her, stretched out that incredibly tight knot that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his neck, and studied her for a long minute.
“We need to have this conversation somewhere else. You can choose. Our rooms. A private tutoring room. Or my office.”
Definitely not their rooms, Dae knew. Being alone with him in their rooms and talking about sex was not her idea of safe tactics. His office was totally his territory. She knew better than to meet her opponent on his territory.
“A private tutoring room,” she responded, her chin up as she tried to prove to him she wasn’t afraid of him or the topic at hand. The truth was, she wasn’t exactly sure about any of it. She was shaken to hear about all of these weird rules. “Why would someone make up a rule like that?” she grumbled at him as he led the way.
“It is meant to attract a certain kind of person, Dae. When we first opened these halls during the war, it was difficult to find models for classes. People were leery of each other, scuffling about trickling clan issues, disliking the idea of Sanctuary having been moved from the lowlands to here. That rule titillated those who were exhibitionists. It became a flirtation for others. It’s a form of foreplay all on its own. People are tempted to test themselves. There are three lecture halls here, and all share the same rules. We almost never lack for models, with or without class being officially scheduled. We have a servant who has only one job, and that is to change the bedding in these rooms as frequently as it is used. Even if it is just what you and I did.”
He was walking past the lecture halls in question as he spoke, but then stopped and crossed the hall to one of the doors on the opposite side of the corridor. These were the only doors in Sanctuary with locks on them that weren’t residential rooms. She had never seen inside them and watched warily as he took a key from his pocket and opened the door. He gestured, and she preceded him into the dark space. He had already shut and locked the door, throwing an inside bolt as well, by the time she saw the bed.
“Oh no! No, you don’t. Let me out of here.”
She about-faced and found him standing in front of the door, leaning back against it and studying her carefully.
“What did you think happened during the private tutoring labs for the course you are currently taking? Or didn’t you realize they are a requirement here in Sanctuary? Another rule.”
Well, he didn’t have to sound so damn superior about it, even if he was right. “Private…but, umm…the students aren’t allowed to have sex…I thought.”
“Unsupervised sex. Not until they are responsible enough to keep from getting pregnant or hurting themselves or others, physically or emotionally. A teacher judges what they are ready for. A teacher introduces them to themselves.”
“But we’re the teachers. And we can’t…”
“Students invite willing partners when it’s time for that, after discussing it with their tutor first, of course. The choice has to be the right one.”
“Well, you aren’t the right one,” she groused.
“Well, unfortunately, I am all you’ve got, K’yindara. Or did you want Brendan to tutor you privately?”
He tossed off the question almost carelessly, but Daenaira could hear and feel the danger reeking out of him. She took a cautious step back.
“I didn’t think…” she stammered hesitantly.
“No. You didn’t think. But we’ve rectified that now. You wanted tutoring in sex, and now you have a tutor. Let’s get started. Unless you’d rather continue in the penance chamber.”
“The penance chamber!”
“Of course, Dae. Avoiding course requirements is, after all, a punishable offense.”
“You’re a prick,” she spat, backing up when he began to move toward her. It quickly began to feel like he was stalking her, and her heart began to race with her anxiety. She didn’t like feeling like prey. She didn’t like feeling her hands sweat as if she were afraid of him or something.
“I think you’ve made that much clear to me before,” he acknowledged.
“You promised you wouldn’t touch me without my permission!” she cried out as they quickly ran out of room. She retreated all the way to the alcove that held the roomy bed so prettily made up in violet silks that, ironically, matched his uniform.
“And I won’t. I believe our topic for today is masturbation.”