Home > Damien (Nightwalkers #4)(6)

Damien (Nightwalkers #4)(6)
Author: Jacquelyn Frank

Possible, but rare.

Clearly Aria was a rare bird to begin with, so it paid to hope for the best.

Before Syreena could speak another word, Aria suddenly stepped back from her and shrank into herself again. It was enough to put the Princess on guard. She turned to see what Aria was seeing.

Her breath caught.


Syreena had met the Vampire Prince before, and she knew him on sight. It would have been impossible to forget him. Even though he was not presently using his ability to cast a net of altered perception and fear in front of himself, she still knew to regard his imposing presence with cautious respect. He was tall, like a Demon, defying the slender, willowy build of his species, bordering just above athletic with the anomalous width of his shoulders and his blatantly muscular build. Still, he carried himself with that casual and lean grace that all Vampires seemed to inherently have. He gave the impression of lazing carelessness, of ease and relaxation, but she knew from experience that it was a lie. A camouflage. The Prince could be at the ready with deadly quick ease.

Siena had seen him in battle. She had told Syreena of his performance with unleashed fascination. The Queen had said she had never seen anyone move so fast or seem to enjoy the kill so very naturally. For that to come from the Queen of a species who lived half their existence as animals of varying predatory instincts, it was quite the outstanding compliment.

Syreena's impressions of him had been different.

He had unnerved her, not to put too fine a point on it. Not quite as much as he was unnerving young Aria at the moment, but certainly enough to encourage her to keep her time in the same room with him down to a minimum.

The urge to tuck tail irritated her. It was not in her nature to be frightened or stirred up so easily, especially without any true explanation for it. This would be a very poor beginning to her duty here if she let him intimidate her. The only thing she had going for her was the fact that he had no idea she felt that way. Or at least she would so long as she purged herself of the thoughts quickly enough to avoid telepathic detection, just in case the autocratic Prince decided to nose around her thoughts. She imagined a man like Damien would not hesitate to breach the privacy of others' minds. He struck her as just the sort of empowered male who would see no wrong in such an invasion.

The Princess turned back to see Aria had utterly disappeared. Smart girl. Vampires were unpredictable and occasionally churlish. Syreena enviously wished for a moment that she had the freedom to beat a hasty retreat, but since she didn't, she turned instead to inspect the Vampire Prince and the svelte woman who stood by his side. She was quite obviously Vampire, tall and dark-haired, all fairly normal for the breed. There were very few blond Vampires in the world. Syreena could allow that the female was remarkably beautiful, save for the fact that there was something a little too old and a bit too disenchanted in her dark brown eyes. Her taut posture and resistant body language made it clear she was not exactly thrilled to be there.

Since Syreena had not been expecting Vampire representatives, she moved over to them to discover their purpose. They were welcome, of course, under the same sketchy guidelines as everyone else, but last night at a joint meeting to finalize the opening of the Library to the scholars, Noah had said that Damien had declined his invitation.

As she approached them, she saw a change come over the Vampire female. She was stepping into the Library entrance with an expression swiftly coursing across her face that no doubt they all had had the first time they had seen it. The hollowness in her eyes seemed to disappear and they filled with an avarice Syreena was actually quite familiar with.

The greedy hunger to learn.

A Vampire scholar? Now there was an amusing paradox. Not that they weren't one of the more brilliant and cunning species of Nightwalkers, because they were. However, they usually directed that intellect and energy to more…carnal and instantly gratifying pursuits. They were voracious sensualists. Nothing kept their interest for very long unless it engaged all of their senses at once. Certainly a roomful of books wouldn't often fit that bill.

Unless, Syreena speculated, one's lust and sensual pleasure was derived from reading and attaining knowledge. That would make this the site of a veritable orgy.

Damien noticed her immediately. Harlequin coloring aside, she was incredibly hard to miss. She was not tall or an outstandingly sexual-looking creature like her lioness of a sister was, but she was an unshakable presence just the same. As she walked toward him, her steps were straight and assured, only the slightest sway in her hips. He liked that, he mused absently. She wasted no movement, expended no excess energy. Why that was a keen little delight to him he had no idea. It wasn't as though he'd ever really been put off by a woman with a sensual wriggle in her spine, to be sure. There was simply something about the efficiency on this particular woman that made it appealing. Although, by the chill expression in her eyes, he probably should keep from smiling appreciatively about it.

But he didn't.

"Syreena," he said, his tone nowhere near as cold as her expression. He let warmth and speculation color his voice, purposely allowing her to hear it just to watch her spine tighten in irritation. "Jasmine, this is Princess Syreena. Syreena, this is Jasmine. She is…" He trailed off when he realized Jasmine had given Syreena a halfhearted wave before moving quickly toward the first stack of books she could reach. "She is apparently eager to get started," he mused in excuse for his companion's rudeness, chuckling under his breath while he watched her begin to rummage through the shelves. Jasmine had never been known for her winning ways with others, but her appetite for knowledge was rivaled only by her appetite for blood.

It appeared to Syreena that the Vampire Prince was undoubtedly quite fond of the lissome brunette. "I had not expected anyone other than Kelsey or you to be coming." Syreena broached him directly. "Why the sudden change?"

"Jasmine is an excellent student and quite loyal to me," he said by way of explanation, "a bill that Kelsey, while certainly loyal, does not reasonably fit. If you are worried, I give you my word she will not cause any trouble."

"Isn't that an oxymoron? A Vampire not causing trouble?"

Syreena had not really meant to say that. At least, not aloud. So she was startled when he laughed. He was rather handsome when he laughed, she found herself thinking unexpectedly. Oh, he was a handsome creature overall, his Nightwalker genetics seeing to that quite thoroughly. He had bright white teeth, no sign of fangs at all as they were retracted at the moment much in the way a cat hid its claws. He wore a closely barbered beard and mustache, the line of it trimmed along his jaw and accenting that masculine, squared contour. Another anomaly, she noted. Vampire males tended to be almost baby-faced, giving the illusion of an early adolescent hairlessness. Rarely did one cultivate facial hair like the Prince did. When taken in addition to the other slightly out-of-step traits he bore, it made her wonder if he purposely defied cultural norms, and if so, why?

His extraordinarily dark blue eyes gleamed with a merriment that made his features come alive. A thick braid of hair snaked over his shoulder, the end tip brushing just below his well-defined pectoral muscle. In that moment, the sheer beauty of him almost made him look like he was the most harmless man on the planet.

And that was probably what gave Syreena the chills.

She did not trust him.

She shouldn't trust him, she assured herself. Even though there was a relative peace between Vampires and Lycanthropes, who in their right mind could possibly trust anyone from a species that took great delight in using trust to suck in a mark they were playing with simply for their amusement? Syreena had heard stories, stories often concerning Damien himself, of exploits and exploitations that had the potential to curl her hair.

"There is no protection here," Damien mused suddenly.

Considering that the only people there were scholars and that there had been some very determined enemies excavating enthusiastically for this very place, he had a reasonable point. Yet she felt insulted despite agreeing with him.

"I am here," she noted coldly.

"Yes," he observed, his voice as slow and as speculative as his eyes while they roamed over her from head to toe in obvious measure. "So you are." He paused long enough to turn half his mouth into an infuriating smile. "Not to impugn your abilities, my dear, but I do not see how you would be sufficient to hold back a tide of magic-users and human hunters led by a turncoat Demon, should they decide to come back."

"Well, my dear," she countered caustically, "I suppose I will have to rely on the fact that they failed in their initial search and do not know of this place…"

"Yet," he injected.

"…and the perfectly capable Nightwalkers who will be in the Library at the time," she finished, her tone mocking and hostile.

"And how many will that be at that time? Ten? Five? Jasmine included, I only see four at the moment. Hardly enough to even hope they will survive any attack in force. We will be forced to sleep within the daytime; our human enemies have no such limitations. Perhaps not even the Demon traitor, as powerful as she has grown."

Again, he had a point, Syreena felt. Actually, he had only thought of it quicker than she had. She truly was not in disagreement with his observations. So why, then, did she feel so offended?

Damien had to admit, he had baited her deliberately. He had wanted to ruffle that placid calm and marked self-assuredness she kept around her like a cloak. He remembered a night not long ago when he had seen determined and fierce protectiveness in her, as well as cold outrage, when he had watched her defend her sister from harm. It titillated him, the idea of getting under her skin and shaking that resolved composure. He could sense when her thoughts and emotions stirred, when she allowed herself to think hotly about how much she did not like him and that she absolutely would as soon take his head off his shoulders as trust him.

His impulse satisfied, Damien put aside his interest in her with a wave of one hand and a dismissing turn of his body before she could respond.

The Prince walked into the Library and up behind the female who had come with him. He slid a hand around her rib cage, his fingers settling just beneath her breast as he leaned in and whispered something to her, an infuriating lilt of his lips and the brief cast of his eyes in Syreena's direction giving her the impression he was mocking her.

Syreena took a deep breath, trying to cool the rush of her temper. She had been giving in to this volatile aspect of her personality far too much of late. It was almost as though she was seeking a good fight. She had to admit, however, that she would have gained a great deal of satisfaction in slapping the smirk off the Vampire Prince's face. Political ramifications aside, even Siena would have appreciated the fact that he really deserved it.

Syreena was now in no mood to study. The Library was continuing to fill, the variety of Nightwalkers at a balance that assured maintenance of the peace they all studied in. Or so she told herself as she justified the action of leaving to get a breath of air. She walked out of the Library entrance, pausing to survey the three other caves branching off from just outside of it.

The network of caverns went on for miles, some of them too tight in access for something larger than an average-sized animal. This was why Lycanthropes enjoyed the caverns so much. Access to them was difficult, fresh water and hot springs abounded, and there were never any crowds or interruptions outside of the occasionally unfortunate spelunker. The temperature was constant; no matter what the season, it was always cool and comfortable. And perhaps most of all, it was always night. After a fashion at least. One could travel for miles through these networks during broad daylight and never once touch the sun.

Since exposure to the sun was rapidly poisonous to a Lycanthrope-sickening, polluting, and blistering them in a deadly sun sickness that could kill them far too easily-the advantage of the caverns was clear. A Lycanthrope who had been deeply envenomed by the sun would spend days in utter agony and sickened distress before finally expiring. Perhaps "easily" was a poor representation of such a death, a death Syreena's sister had almost succumbed to only a month earlier.

In the above world, it was now winter. A Russian winter, for that was where Lycanthrope territory was. The caverns had dozens of exits, both known and unknown, that led up into the wintry place. Syreena had entered by one that had formerly led to the hibernation spot of a Lycanthrope named Jinaeri, who had since vacated and found a new hostel for herself in anticipation of the Library traffic that would potentially threaten her winter rest.

Syreena wished she was of a hibernating bent. She could have used the solitude and the rest. But the falcon and her other aspect, the dolphin, were both migrating species. Her urges tended more toward a change in location, following the warmer seasons, than they did curling up for a long sleep. Perhaps this was why she could not quite sit still recently. Maybe this was why she felt so restless and found herself so easily stirred up.

That restless stirring led her to take one of the cavern paths.

When Damien looked up, the Lycanthrope Princess was gone.

He turned from Jasmine to look around the enormous room, his brow furrowed in momentary confusion. The Princess had not struck him as the type to run off and sulk, but he considered for a moment that his taunting may have caused her to do so. He tilted his head slightly as he used all of his supernatural senses to seek her out, just to see where she was. It was little help; the caverns created strange echoes in his sensory network, reflecting ghosts and shadows of presences that were difficult for him to sort through. The only thing he could be sure of was that she was not in the immediate Library any longer.

Why he cared, he did not know. He moved to the Library entrance, still searching.

Syreena broke out of the unexpected exit she had found, stepping into the crunch of untouched snow and the biting chill of winter air.

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