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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Laya,” Tristan begged softly.
“Don’t you ‘Laya’ me! Six months! Six months you have known this!” She rounded on him, her entire body shaking with the fury seething in her whiskey brown eyes. “Leave me. Leave these rooms, Tristan, before I say something I do not mean and will come to regret. Drenna damn you, you go!”
Tristan swallowed hard. Malaya never swore using the names of their gods. It wasn’t a good sign, and the surety of his misery was heavy and terrible. He turned and walked toward the exit as requested.
“Is this what it’s all been about?” she demanded sharply before he could even touch the knob of the door. “All of your insensitivity? The cavalier attitude? The nonstop sexual orgy?”
“Yes,” he said simply, not bothering to turn around.
“I was worried about you!” she accused him. “Worried sick, you selfish bastard! Not to mention I feel like I have been running this species on my own for the past few months! We’re surrounded by enemies, our friends are being targeted for death and you…you’re…you’re…” She turned to Guin harshly. “How did you put it, exactly?”
“Dick deep in pussy,” Guin supplied softly for her.
Tristan narrowed a deadly look on the bodyguard, but Guin just shrugged one big shoulder and gave him a little smile. The smile, however, was cold and quite deadly. The Chancellor was given the uncomfortable feeling that Guin would have given away a critical body part for the opportunity to have a go at him, whether it earned him a date with an executioner or not. Just how many people have I pissed off? he wondered.
“I don’t think you want to hear me make excuses, so I won’t,” he replied softly. “I’ll just remind you that, in my own idiotic way, I wanted to protect you. I kept thinking I could figure this out; come up with a solution, and make it a nonissue. I thought that, when the danger was past, I could tell you and we’d laugh it all off. But…” Tristan swallowed noisily. “I don’t want you to marry because you have to. I want you to marry because you are in love. I want you to be happy. Even more than that, though, I want you here. With me. Just as it’s always been. You and me against the world; undefeated, untainted, unbroken.” He looked at her with angst in his eyes, knowing she would see his fears. “I guess you’re right. That does make me selfish. But I always have been when it comes to loving my sister. It’s childish, I know, but I don’t want anyone to share what you give me.”
Tristan shut up with a snap of his teeth. He knew how bad all of this sounded. He knew how unforgivably spoiled he was. None of this was supposed to be about him. His sister was being hurt and made a victim of circumstance, and all he kept thinking about was how it would affect him. He didn’t blame her for her fury. Gods knew he was furious with himself.
“Tristan, you share what I give you with an entire species! What do you think motivates me to put up with all that is asked of me? Without devotion and love and loyalty, you cannot do what we do. And sacrifice, Tristan,” she said sadly, her disappointment in him so sharp he could taste it. It made him wince. “We make sacrifices for the ones we love. Even if that means I will have to marry, I will do it to keep my people safe and happy. And if it meant letting you go to get joined, I would do that, too, no matter how much it would break my heart to put others between us. But, Tristan, we can’t claim a perfect love if we are never willing to put it to the test, or are never willing to share it out.”
“I know. K’yan Daenaira said something very similar. It made me realize what an ass I was being.” He turned back to her cautiously. He knew better than to make any quick presumptions when his sister was this angry. “Magnus convinced me it was important we be prepared for this when it happens. I think we need to figure out how to protect you. Fast. We are the absolute power in the end, Laya. We can force them, but they can’t force us, remember? I want you to stand against this. Demand your rights as a free, modern ruler and woman. No one will blame you for that.”
“That isn’t true and you know it,” she snapped. “We are a society of tradition. I cannot thumb my nose at that and neither can you. Especially in the political climate where treachery against us foments! And I am not talking to you about this right now. You have had months to consider all of this and I have had barely fifteen minutes! Get out, Tristan. Go find some woman to play with and leave me to think.”
Malaya turned her back on her brother and marched into her bedroom. She knew, even before Guin slammed the door behind them in reflection of her anger, that she was hurting her twin purposely, but she was angry and now she needed the right to be angry. She paced her bedroom sharply, ignoring the sound of her brother’s departure, biting on a nail in her upheaval.
“Bituth amec,” she heard Guin utter gutturally.
She paused to look at him, seeing the giant leaning back against the door, his thick arms folded with barely leashed strength across his chest. The rigidity of his muscles and the darkly dangerous look in his granite eyes were more than enough to tell her how incensed he was. Just what in Light did he have to be so mad about, she thought irritably. He wasn’t the one with an ass for a brother who had completely screwed up!
She was just mad enough to say that out loud. Malaya watched with some fascination as his fists curled tight, and she could hear the grinding pop of his teeth clenching brutally together.
“Don’t you worry about me,” he said tightly through his teeth. “You just figure out how you’re going to get around this edict when it comes.”
“You know, I really would like to know when I gave the impression to the men in my life that I needed them to tell me what to do!” she spat. “What makes you think I want to ‘get around’ it?”
That seemed to take the wind out of him for a moment, and Malaya could swear she saw momentary panic filter into his eyes.
But even though the impression of expression disappeared, she could still see how hard he was breathing, and there was so much tension in his big body she was surprised he didn’t combust before her very eyes.
“You would whore for a powerless Senate just for some archaic rule about unwed female rulers?” he demanded, a muscle jumping furiously in his jaw.
“I whore for no one,” she hissed at him. “What I do, I do for the good of my species!”
“Your species gets along fine without you being married!” he barked.
“Yes, but for how long? How long before my flouting of tradition filters down into the actions of all of our women and men? What if students decide to ignore their education? Hmm? Why not? After all, if the Chancellor can defy tradition, so can they! What of all those potential Sinners who stay on the good side of the law just because they know they can’t get away with defying the way things have always been? Do I set them loose on Shadow and Dreamscape? Or maybe all handmaidens will think they can kill their priests just because they are limited to a traditional role and don’t want to accept his right to say no to conjugal relations just as it is her right to do so!”
“Drenna, that is not the same issue and you know it!” he roared, surging away from the door and marching up to her.
“You think not?” she demanded, facing off with him fearlessly despite his significant size advantage over her. “Corruption is given permission by a single act, Ajai Guin.” She lifted a single finger up between them. “One drop of water can cause ripples for miles! With murderers in the halls of the Senate and Sanctuary, you think I actually have the freedom to thumb my nose at any demand they make of me and think it will not give my enemy fuel for their fire? They want me to say no. They want me to say yes. They know that either way they win and this regime is weakened. Nothing you or my foolish brother says or does will change that!”
“You are not getting joined to a stranger!” the bodyguard exploded in outrage, his hands jolting out to grab her arms, shocking her with the power he used to shake her in his fury. “If I have to murder every one of those treacherous fucks in their beds and face down every priest in Sanctuary because of it, I swear to you I will not allow it!”
“You won’t allow it?” she cried incredulously. “Who are you to allow or disallow anything of me? You’re nobody to this regime! You are Our protector and Our friend, Guin, but you have no power here! You certainly have no right to treat me like you have any say in my fate. What in Light has gotten into you?” Malaya squirmed in his grasp, trying to free herself of the bruising power of his beefy hands. “Let me go!”
“Let you go?” he echoed. “Let you go?” He laughed, a hollow agony to the sound that made her go very still. “I’ve been trying to let you go for fifty goddamn years, K’yatsume. If I managed to achieve it now, it would be a thrice-damned miracle. But I swear to you, Malaya, that if you let them do this—if you let them force you into the arms of an undeserving stranger, I will let you go. I will walk away from here and this house will never hear a breath about me again. And while I know that is of little consequence to my friend”—the term was positively snide—“and even less of consequence to my queen, it’s all I have to threaten you with and save myself with. I won’t stand by and watch you do this.” His voice lowered to a rasp as he drew her so close she could feel his warm breath against her temple. “I won’t sit and suffer so you can marry someone you do not want and do not love. You speak of sacrifice so easily, but you do not understand how hard it is for those who do not have the goodness of the soul that you do. Well, this is a sacrifice I am unwilling to make. Here I will not compromise.”
Guin suddenly shoved her away from himself, making her stumble. She recovered and stared at him as if he had truly lost his mind. And then he did the most shocking thing of all.
“K’yatsume,” he said, standing at a stiff form of attention. “In fifty years I have never taken time for myself. I respectfully request to be relieved of duty for a week.”
“Request denied,” she shot at him sharply. “Guin, what in Light is going on here?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “You won’t free me? When I have never asked you for anything before?”
“I don’t trust you not to do something stupid! You didn’t answer my question.”
“All I want,” he said tightly, “is some time away.”
“You want to hunt traitors and get your fool neck separated from your idiot head!”
“No,” he said, shaking his head heavily, the single small golden loop through his left ear flickering brightly. “I won’t do that.”
“Then why leave?”
“Because I won’t sit here and watch every minute of you coming to the wrong decision!” he bellowed sharply. “Gods! You always accuse me of lacking faith, but I swear that you try me like a saint! Let me go or I will leave without your permission!”
“Then do not bother returning, Ajai Guin!”
“Do you really think that will stop me?” Guin stepped forward again, fists tight as he crowded up against her. Feeling the overwhelming heat of his body and the power he held so tightly reined in, Malaya couldn’t fight the urge to step back. Before she realized it, she was backed up into the tile of the far wall. She didn’t understand why she was intimidated all of a sudden. This was Guin, for Darkness’ sake! He had dedicated his life to seeing no harm came to her. He had bullied her in the past, but she’d always given as good as she’d gotten. The thing was, he had never threatened to leave before, and she had no idea what to make of his behavior. “Let me make something very clear to you, K’yatsume,” he all but purred as he lowered his mouth against her ear. “You are standing an inch away from a man who is rapidly realizing he has absolutely nothing to lose. Don’t. Push. Me.”
Malaya couldn’t seem to help the flash of temper that raced through her. What in Light was wrong with the men in her life? She depended on their predictability, but now two of them were acting completely insane! So she didn’t curb the impulse she had to reach out and push him. Not that he budged very much at all, but he narrowed his eyes on her as he realized she was purposely baiting him. Granite eyes darkened as he raked them down over her, from the tip of her widow’s peak to the bare toes peeping out from under her k’jurta. Then, to her shock and surprise, Guin reached out and hooked a finger into the loose neckline of her blouse, pulling downward until her breast was exposed right to the line above her nipple. Her rapid breath brought her dangerously close to exposure to him, which shouldn’t have even mattered after all the years he had been with her and spent seeing her nude during the course of her daily life.
“You push, I push,” he promised her, the low threat giving her amazing chills down the corridor of her spine.
“Guin, cut it out,” she snapped, smacking his hand away.
Or trying to. Guin never moved unless he wanted to move.
The bodyguard re-hooked his finger into her blouse and included her bra this time, pulling both away from her skin. She looked at him in shock, watching as he held her gaze and purposely pursed his lips before leaning a bit closer and blowing warmly against her exposed nipple. She stiffened in response, in more ways than one, and her breath clogged in her throat with her surprise.
“Let me go, or else, K’yatsume, I will stay very, very, very close to you instead.” His fingertip, rough with the calluses of his warrior’s trade, slipped into her bra and rubbed over the pointed tip of her nipple very lightly. “So close,” he promised, “that I will be as good as inside you. Then again, I may not stop at ‘as good as.’”