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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Guin, stop,” Malaya breathed, stunned at his behavior and at the way her voice shook. Frissons of heated arousal began to spark inside her, and she blushed hotly at the very idea of being turned on by one of her best friends. Guin had never made a pass at her in fifty years!
Well, there had been that one time…
But that had been a moment of emotional stress and his usual bullying. This time it was well beyond bullying, though! Technically, putting hands on a royal without invitation was an act of aggression that her bodyguard was allowed to kill for.
Except what happened when it was the bodyguard himself doing the aggressive touching?
“Make your choice. Close or far. One week of either is all the same to me. Both will relax me, both will afford me the release I need. It’s up to you.”
“Fine!” she hissed, smacking him away more definitively this time. “Go! Get yourself laid, killed, or whatever it is you want to do! But don’t you ever touch me like that again!” Malaya shoved at him, squeezing out from between him and the wall and storming out of the room.
“Not even if you beg me to?” he called to her back, chuckling when she slammed the door on him.
Guin sighed, his fabricated humor evaporating as soon as he was closed off from her. Clearly, he had developed a taste for torture. He ran a hand down the front of his fly, trying to adjust himself in the wake of feeling her and smelling her respond so readily to his touch. He had taken a huge risk, offering her an alternative choice like that. What would he have done in the wildly unlikely instance that she had accepted his challenge? If he thought he had trouble getting clear of her now, he could just imagine what it would be like once he had learned of her sexual body.
Because there was one thing Guin was absolutely sure of.
He was an addict. He had never taken the drug, but he was an addict just the same. He would trade his life away, do anything, sell out anyone—sell his soul to M’gnone, if that was what it took, just to dive into the bliss of that drug forever.
But forever was the only option once he started, and he knew that. Just as he knew starting wasn’t an option in the first place.
Never had been, never would be.
Magnus lifted his head from the bed of Dae’s hair beneath his whisker-coarse cheek, cocking his attention to the energy passing in the hall outside. With a sigh, he reached out and gently shook Dae awake.“What is it?” she asked without opening her eyes, rolling over into the warmth of his body. She snuggled close and it made him smile.
“They’re looking for me,” he said softly.
“You’re kidding, right? What part of me screaming ‘Oh, Magnus! Yes, Magnus, yes!’ did they not hear, exactly?”
“Soundproofing, K’yindara. These are private rooms. People need to feel free to express themselves.”
“Oh.” She chuckled. “Well, I certainly took that to heart.”
“That you did,” he agreed, bending to kiss her temple. “No one knows that but us, however, and I like it that way.”
“Then how do you know you’re needed?”
“It’s a sense. The way people are moving through the halls. I can see them in infrared. They don’t realize we came back, so it wouldn’t occur to them to check for us in here. After all, why would I have my handmaiden in a private tutoring room when I have two perfectly good beds to choose from in our quarters?”
“That shows you how foolish it is to assume.”
Daenaira sat up away from him, robbing him of the enjoyment of her warmth, and began to dress herself. He didn’t see how he had any choice but to follow suit. They would find him eventually. They always did. And he didn’t want anyone using Daenaira as fodder for gossip.
“I’ll leave first. I need a bath anyway. Unless you think you will need me at the palace?”
“So you think it’s Malaya looking for me?”
“Of course.” She shrugged a bare shoulder, attracting his full attention to the ripe sway of her breast. “You said yourself that she would be calling on us once Tristan got up the nerve to speak with her. Tristan doesn’t strike me as the sort to procrastinate.”
Magnus laughed at that, a little incredulous as he shrugged into his tunic. “How can you say that after he spent six months doing exactly that?”
“No. He didn’t. He might like to say that he was, but he was actually executing a plan. Like I said. He was trying to cut himself off first. Now that he has a new plan, he’ll do that as quickly as possible. Sometimes procrastination is an action, not inaction.”
Magnus knew this, of course, but it surprised him that she had this kind of insight into the psychological condition of the mind. She’d been locked away for eight years—where had all of this knowledge of people come from? There was still a great deal about her that he didn’t know.
He still didn’t have his boots on by the time she was draped in her sari and bending to give him a quick, chaste kiss on his lips. Finding that unacceptable, he buried a hand in her hair and jerked her down into his lap, bending her back over his arm as he kissed her with enough depth to make her boneless and compliant within his grasp all over again. Not that he was going to take her again. The second time had already been rather selfish of him, putting her untried body at risk of soreness and aches he would rather she avoid even if she would heal quickly. But once she’d reminded him of that fabulous vision he’d—they’d—had of taking her hard against a wall, he’d been unable to stop himself.
Magnus whisked her up off his lap and back onto her feet, propelling her to the door with a smack on her luscious fanny. She rubbed the offended area a bit too slowly and suggestively as she threw a heated look at him over her shoulder before leaving. The priest swallowed hard, realizing that with a woman as bold as Dae was, opening the door of her sexuality was going to be like letting loose the proverbial tiger. She was beautiful and savage in her own right, full of danger and surprises. He had a feeling he was in for the ride of his life.
Daenaira left for their rooms with a smile on her lips and a twinge of awkwardness in her step. When Magnus had first entered her the second time, it had hurt a bit, but nothing like the first time. Just the same, she was happy and relieved when she slid into the hot waters of their bath. She had grown to enjoy the spoiling pleasure of luxuries like the bath. Sometimes she would feel momentary fear about that, because she knew life was unpredictable, and what she had been given could just as easily be taken away, but she had to trust Magnus to protect their way of life, if nothing else. Of course, if his enemies had their way…
Cold, hard dread filled her belly. Daenaira simply couldn’t seem to make herself think cavalierly about Magnus’s possible death. It was stupid, really, because especially given the environment of threat, it could very well happen, and she had to be prepared for that. She had to wonder what would happen to her. K’yan Hera had never been chosen by another priest and was living a life of contented solitude amongst her peers. She had been for the forty years since Kincaid’s death. Sanctuary had even offered to generously retire her at any time when Kincaid had died. Apparently, they had realized that a Bonded handmaiden would never be able to give herself to someone else—this was how powerful the connection was—and they had offered to let her live peacefully as she desired.
But Dae wasn’t Bonded, and she wasn’t likely to be if it hadn’t happened by now. The thought made her smile and shiver all at once. The shiver was a bit of a chill at the thought of being handed over to a priest who might very well have had a hand in Magnus’s death. The sheer morbidity and echoes of her old life that were in that thought made her frown, not to mention the understanding that she did not trust anyone in Sanctuary. The smile was the better part of her thoughts. It was a memory of the past few hours and how hard Magnus had worked to see her through the lessons of sexual awakening she had needed and, admittedly, wanted. She couldn’t imagine being so intimate with anyone other than Magnus. For all their difficulties, some of which were still as unresolved as they had been before, there was something powerful and undeniable between them physically. Before Magnus, she had never imagined being voluntarily willing to give her body to a man. Now she looked forward to his return with eager signs of arousal flashing through her.
Dae got out of the bath quickly after that. What she needed was to keep occupied. She should return to her classes for the night as if nothing had changed. Besides, she had to admit she was growing fond of the private instruction time she had with K’yan Hera. Not just because she liked the woman, but the topic of their religion had become a fascinating subject for Daenaira. Especially when explained in Hera’s devoted voice and with her obvious eagerness for the topic at hand. Dae was coming to appreciate the nuances of the role priests and handmaidens played as physical representatives of the gods they worshipped.
She plaited her hair because it was wet, dressed in a clean sari, and headed out into the common areas again. She was just entering the main atrium when she ran into Tiana.
“Dae! Good night to you,” her newest friend greeted her.
“Good night, Tiana. How are you today?” Dae felt bad for K’yan Tiana. The girl had done nothing wrong, but by association she was being treated as the pariah that Cort should have been treated as. Dae found it unfair that an innocent woman should suffer for the acts of a treacherous man. The only thing Tiana was guilty of, as far as Daenaira could see, was trusting the wrong male and being ignorant of his secret life.
“I am fine,” Tiana lied. The handmaiden was quite sensitive to the way she was being treated. As Dae understood it, because she had been the maiden of a penance priest, she had enjoyed a certain level of prestige while Cort had been alive. Now she was quite removed from any of the influence she had enjoyed.
Despite the claims that all handmaidens and all priests were equal to their peers in place and power, it was clear there was a pecking order to be found, and the more powerful one partner was in either the male or the female order, the more powerful the other became by association. Magnus was, of course, top of the chain within the ranks of the males, with Shiloh a frightening second, but Karri had been second to Hera on the ladder in spite of that. Clearly age and wisdom had its place, but the Bonding was a trump card amongst the women. It was the ultimate achievement for a handmaiden, and therefore the ultimate determiner of position. Being young and new, Daenaira had no position at all, really, until she took her vow officially and developed a stronger relationship with her priest. The battle for position didn’t really concern her though. She had enough to worry about just managing things between Magnus and herself.
“Will you walk with me?” Dae asked her friend. Tiana nodded happily.
Tiana was chatty for a few minutes, almost nervously so, making Dae smile at her. She stopped her in a secluded alcove, drawing her close.
“You’re buzzing like a bee,” she scolded her softly. “Tell me what is on your mind.”
“Nothing. Really.” Tiana laughed softly. “I guess I’m just glad to have someone to talk to. Things like this…you learn who your real friends are.” The pretty little brunette frowned. “I thought some of these women were the best of friends, people I could trust with just about anything. But the way they treat me—when it wasn’t even me who did anything wrong!” Tiana’s lower lip trembled and tears swam in her eyes before she turned her face away to hide them. “Cort was such a mean bastard,” she confessed. “Cold to the core. But I did what I was supposed to do and I didn’t complain. No matter how roughly he would use me sometimes. He barely kept within my tolerances and I could feel sometimes how he wanted to go beyond…”
Tiana swallowed and looked back at her new friend. “I wasn’t surprised it was him. When I heard about the attempt to rape you, I swear I felt ice freeze my soul. He was so close to that edge, and you could just taste it on him. But I swear to you, if I had been sure—if I had really known—I would have said so. If I had known him and Daniel and others were plotting, I would have said so. But I didn’t. I was so stupid and naïve.” She dashed away her tears and sniffled as her lip trembled all the harder with her repressed misery. Daenaira’s heart went out to her.
“Why didn’t you ever go to Magnus about how he was treating you? He would have listened to you.”
“I don’t know. Cort always made like he owned me, that all of this was his by his right as a priest.” She indicated the length of her body. “And it wasn’t always bad. He had this kindness sometimes. Humor. I figured he just liked rough sex. He was entitled to his preferences, after all.”
“So were you. You could have said no,” Dae said darkly.
“I tried that once,” she confessed on a low voice, as if Cort were still alive to wreak vengeance on her for telling tales out of the bedroom. “He punished me for it. I never tried again.”
“Tiana!” Daenaira was horrified. “Did he torture you?”
Tiana flushed a dark red under her bronzed skin-tone. “Not like you mean. Um…” She licked her lips with her discomfort. “I…rather liked most of it, actually. I guess that makes me foolish.”
“No. It doesn’t. I won’t pretend to understand, either. I never had sexual instruction until Magnus began to teach me, so I’m a little raw still.” Daenaira couldn’t help but smile when she thought back to their time in the tutoring room.
Tiana studied her and a grin twitched over her lips. “Would you like to see something? But you can’t tell Magnus. If M’jan Magnus knew I knew about this, or that I told you about this, he’d pop a major vessel and drop dead. Then Shiloh would take over and all Light would break loose on the ’scapes.”