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|Rapture(Shadowdwellers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
If Nicoya was Acadian’s daughter, and if Shiloh was submissive to Nicoya, then that meant that she was the real danger. She could even be leading Dae to Acadian, who was no doubt twenty times as deadly as her offspring. The very thought of Daenaira being led into the clutches of a known and accomplished torturer made him run even faster.
Brendan turned away from the wall after shutting off the taps. He nearly gave himself a coronary as he came face-to-face with the last woman he would have ever expected to find in his bath, regardless of how his fantasies had been tending toward exactly that not too long ago. Ever since he had watched Magnus brush her damned hair as if he were eagerly seducing Drenna Herself, he hadn’t been able to shed the forbidden craving from his thoughts. Gods, but he was crazy about those beautiful and unusually colored tresses of hers. It had made him realize Magnus had probably been right to be jealous of his intentions in the lecture hall. Brendan had subconsciously been taking advantage of his position in that class to get his hands into her hair.“Drenna! Dae! You just took a decade off my life!”
“It’s a good thing we’re long-lived, then, isn’t it?” she asked drolly, quirking up a pretty little reddish brow as her candid eyes drifted slowly down the length of his naked body. She held up a clean, folded towel, extending it to him generously even as her gaze lingered over his sex far longer than was sanely comfortable for him to cope with. He snatched the towel from her, wrapping it quickly around his hips before she got an eyeful of his response to that heated appraisal.
Uncomfortable and resisting the urge to look for the wrath of Magnus coming down on him, he ran a nervous hand through his wet hair, pushing the jaw-length mop off his face.
“What are you doing in here, Dae?” he demanded as he pushed past her and walked into his bedroom. “This isn’t proper behavior.”
“Oh, come on, Brendan. I’m a handmaiden. I’ve seen naked men before,” she teased him with a laugh as she dogged his heels. “Look at you, all embarrassed. You had Nan bathing you for what, fifty years? Before Crush took her? What’s the difference?”
“The difference is, she was my handmaiden. You are Magnus’s. Do you know what he would do to me if he found you in here? Gods, you need to go.” He paled just thinking about the trouble she could cause him. He had never seen Magnus so possessive and volatile as he was with this woman. This impropriety might mean little to her, but it would be a huge betrayal to Magnus, especially in light of Karri.
“Oh, stop,” she brushed him off, trotting in a skip to his bed and landing on it with a flounce. “We aren’t doing anything wrong. He’s just a bully.”
“He’s also my boss! Our boss,” he corrected.
“Drenna and M’gnone are our bosses,” she reminded him blithely.
“Dae, you aren’t supposed to speak His name in Sanctuary unless it is to give a sermon or lecture.”
“I just did give a lecture,” she pointed out.
Well, she had a point there. She had been correcting him. The realization of a raw maiden correcting a veteran priest was enough to make him chuckle, lightening the mood when she grinned back at him.
“So you have a reason for being here?” he asked her, trying not to eye the way she looked as she sprawled back across his bed, her red-black hair glowing across the violet spread.
Gods, Brendan, you need a new handmaiden, he lectured himself harshly before turning to seek out some clothing from his bureau. Except it wasn’t so simple. He had cared for poor Nan very much. It had been hell watching her die a little every day. Slow and excruciating, Crush was the most horrid death known to their kind. Worst was at the end when it suddenly decided to pick up speed and blindsided both its victim and those who had seen her alive, chatty and happy only days before she had been knocking at the door of the Beyond. She had been blind, nearly deaf, and weak, but she had still been Nan until those last days. Then she had been a screaming, ravaged husk of pain that no medication, no herbs, no healers could quiet. To send her to sleep would do nothing because it was obvious that Crush followed its victims into Dreamscape.
It had felt almost impossible to replace Nan before the disease had ravaged her. Once it had wrung through him and clawed her life from her inch by excruciating inch those last few days, he couldn’t bear the idea of drawing so close to someone only to lose them so brutally once again. If not for Magnus and Karri being with him every step of the way, he wasn’t certain he would have risen from the oppressive gray pall that had weighted him at the sound of Nan’s last breath. His relief at her death had been so overwhelming and so unbearably shameful to him that it hurt still to think about it. It had felt selfish, and like a betrayal, but neither would he have wished a single instant’s further pain on her.
Brendan bent his head, using his dresser to lean on as he tried to breathe through this sudden tide of emotion he was feeling. He didn’t even hear Dae get to her feet. She touched trailing fingertips down his spine, peeking around his biceps and the irremovable band of his office he wore around it.
“Hey, you still here?” she asked gently, her touch following the gully of his backbone between the strong muscles of his back. He was hardly the hardened, massive warrior that Magnus was, but he was still strong and fit, nicely sculpted, with a body he was actually a tad vain about. Her touch, however, felt just a little too good on his skin.
“Yup,” he assured with a nod. He straightened up and continued to look for clothes.
“This is unusual,” she remarked after a moment, stepping behind him and drawing her fingertips low along the line of his towel.
This time, Brendan was all too aware of how her touch woke up his skin with a blazing fury. Her thumbs smoothed over the low curve of his back and nearly tugged his towel free. That wouldn’t have been good at all, because he was quite sure he had the heaviest erection of the year going on beneath it. Brendan grimaced, realizing she was going to take notice eventually, regardless.
“The tattoo?” he asked knowingly, swallowing hard and striving for control. “I know.”
“Magnus has one in the same place. Half moon, half sun. Drenna and M’gnone. Dark and Light. But I don’t know if I understand this one.” She traced over the image and the delicate green fronds of bamboo decorating it like a frame.
“It’s called a yin-yang. The white and black are good and evil, at least roughly, and the dots on opposing sides remind us that we all have a little of each inside of us, no matter what the bigger part of us appears to be made of. Magnus showed it to me long ago, when I became angry because he forced me to allow a man, a Sinner that I despised, the opportunity for repentance. He was a coward who preyed on those weaker than he was, and when faced with Magnus’s sword he wanted to swear repentance and take penance. Magnus agreed, although we could both see it was merely a tactic to buy himself time. I was so angry I almost hit Magnus that day. He showed me the symbol, explained its meaning, and then said that he was now responsible for finding that single speck of goodness inside all of that badness.” Brendan turned and smiled at her. “Then he told me I could watch him do it as slowly and as excruciatingly as possible. He kept the bastard in penance for a month until he broke. Then kept him here in Sanctuary for three years after that, working his ass off and making him prove he was worthy of seeing the outside world again one day.”
Brendan shook his head in admiration. “That guy eventually volunteered to make amends to every person he had hurt, no matter how hard it was for him. Magnus had found a way into him, drew out that speck of good and somehow made it grow. Now that former Sinner volunteers most of his time here and helps out the priests who have no handmaidens with the more squirelike tasks; weapons cleaning, a little housekeeping, helping them pack for migration time, or making sure we all eat. We forget to do that sometimes.”
“That just proves you are all dedicated to what you do,” she murmured, her hand sliding into the lean cut of his waist and then across the rigid bumps of his tightening abdominal muscles. Brendan hesitated moments too long, enjoying the wicked sensation, before reaching to carefully enclose her hand in his, trapping her palm against him.
“What are you doing, Dae?”
“Brendan,” she said softly, coyly, “surely it hasn’t been that long for you?”
It was a tease, but he found no humor in it. A strange cold dread writhed through the immediate heat her flirtation also sent slithering through him.
“Dae,” he began sternly.
But she effectively silenced him when she used surprising strength to shove him roughly back against the dresser, and with a full-bodied press of her flesh, she wriggled up tightly against him. Her hands began to coast over his damp skin. She shaped his pectorals, his shoulders and arms, her breasts and her bare belly pressing into him with electric contact. The way her hips snuggled up against his, he knew she couldn’t possibly miss the heavy weight of his thickened cock. Brendan closed his eyes as sensation overwhelmed him, and he swallowed back a low, heartfelt groan. It was an effort, but he managed to keep his hands off her, holding them up and out to his sides like a man surrendering.
“Daenaira!” he choked out in a strangled attempt at normalcy. “Quit it! This isn’t funny!”
Why in Light would she be doing this? It has to be a joke! For fuck’s sake, I can smell Magnus all over her! It was obvious they had been quite intimate very recently. Was that it? She’d had a taste of his friend and now wanted something more? Or was she thinking it was okay to comparison shop? No. There were very basic rules here, and she knew what they were!
“I don’t recall making a joke,” she observed, her unimpeded hands stroking down his sides and back, sliding softly between the press of their bodies and slowly, inexorably heading below his navel.
When her fingers snagged the edge of his towel, he had no choice but to grab her wrist in a harsh, bruising grip.
“Stop!” he hissed. “There are rules, Dae, and this is sin you are toying with.”
“You say that as if you have no sin in your heart,” she said softly, looking up at him through her lashes as her free hand slid down to cup his erection into her palm through the terry of the towel. There was no repressing the moan of agonizing pleasure he released. “You’re already sinning in your mind.”
“Coveting is one thing,” he rasped, knowing he should push her away and unable to do so in spite of himself. “Sin of the flesh is another. I won’t betray Magnus, Daenaira. Stop!”
“Your body betrays Magnus,” she noted, her voice dispassionate even as she breathed hot breath over his exposed nipple. Her deft fingers found the seam of the tucked towel, but instead of pulling it free, she slipped her hand beneath and sought him out.
“Dae!” he gasped as her fingertips brushed against him, the skin-to-skin contact electrifying.
“Shh.” She smiled as she reached her other hand up to cover his mouth, concealing his protests. “Just feel me. Pay careful attention and feel me.”
She slowly moved her touch over to his leg and spaced her fingertips out across his thigh muscle. Then, with all of her strength, she dug her nails deep into his skin. Brendan shouted a curse beneath her hand, though it was completely muffled, and he tried to throw her off him.
But before he could grab her fully she said, “There now, that feels good, doesn’t it? I could make you come just by touching you like this, couldn’t I?” Brendan stared at her as if she had lost her mind, groaning a little as she dug in her nails a little further. “Do you like the way I stroke your cock?” she asked him. She dug into him when he blinked dumbly at her, his head dropping back as he released a muffled cry of pain that, he slowly realized, could easily be mistaken for a sound of pleasure. “I bet you’d like me on my knees,” she continued to purr, the catch of her gaze turning suddenly meaningful beneath the false allure of her lowered lashes. “You’d love my mouth on you, your hands in my hair as I sucked you to climax. Don’t stand here and pretend to be all righteous when I can feel how much I turn you on.”
She carefully peeled her fingers away when she was clearly satisfied he was getting the picture something wasn’t right. This was some kind of a staged act, Brendan realized. But staged for whom? And who in Light could be listening? Or—he took into consideration how she had carefully hidden her gouging nails—watching? Was someone watching her do this? Relief washed through him when he realized she wasn’t really trying to test his fortitude and his friendship with Magnus. But just where in Light could someone be watching from in the privacy of his own bedroom?
Daenaira glanced down Brendan’s body, finally satisfied he’d gotten the message. Granted, she’d been a little surprised at first to find him so excited, and she’d felt awful about making an embarrassing moment for him even worse, but she had needed to be convincing from all but the most minute angle of concealment.
And now she had to take it further.
Brendan’s towel, staining red against the violet fabric where she’d clawed into him, dropped to the floor, leaving him naked. She guarded the wounds with the shield of her body as she turned him and walked him backward to his bed before dumping him onto it. Then she drew up her skirt and quickly climbed him to straddle his hips.
Being sex to sex with Brendan while he was so aroused was highly disconcerting to Daenaira. Worse, she had to affect having sex with him in a position she’d never tried with only two actual experiences under her belt. The seductress business, she realized, was much harder than she’d thought, even with the proverbial eager male at hand.
Brendan reached for her upper arms, his strong hands closing hard around her as he strangled on a sound of crossing pain and pleasure. Gods, she hated to do this to him! She could feel how furious he was with himself for reacting to her so strongly. His body clearly had no qualms about betraying the trust and faith of a friend, whereas the man himself wanted nothing of the kind. It mortified him, knowing she was in need of help and that he couldn’t control himself. But that was okay. She actually didn’t want him to control himself. The more realistic this was, the better. They both knew what was in their hearts. She just had to warn him that he was marked to die before she actually had to kill him.