Reparation in Blood [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ariel Tachna
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
eBook Description: Volume 4 of the "Partnership in Blood" series The war is at a fever pitch with both sides stretched to the limit, when the dark wizards score a shocking victory and capture Orlando St. Clair. Haggard with worry and grief at the separation from his lover, Alain fears that even if they find Orlando, the vampire's heart and mind may be far too broken to save. Knowing the Alliance teeters on the brink, Christophe Lombard, the oldest, most powerful vampire in Paris leaves his self-imposed seclusion to join the fight. Alain's lost friend Eric Simonet, who betrayed him to join the dark wizards, is faced with a choice between revenge and redemption. And Jean, enraged by Orlando's capture, faces the most agonizing decision in his unlife as the final battle looms: Will their actions lead to the shattering of the Alliance or the salvation of the world?
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2009, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2009
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30 Reader Ratings:
...the reader is left with a story they will not soon forget. This is one of those series that readers who love vampire stories will keep on their shelves for always. 5 of 5 Stars Lydia @ Rainbow Reviews
Thierry frowned as he sat at the kitchen table watching Alain. It had not even been twenty-four hours since Orlando was captured and already his best friend looked haggard, physical and emotional exhaustion wreaking havoc on him. Thierry feared what would happen if those hours stretched into days. He was even more afraid of them stretching into weeks--weeks Orlando did not have, given he could not feed except from Alain.
His mind raced with possibilities for finding the missing vampire. Night patrols were searching every location Monique Leclerc, the defector wizard, could identify as a place Serrier used in the hopes of catching a break and finding Orlando that way, but she had been very honest about the fact that the dark leader deliberately kept his forces fragmented so that anyone captured could only reveal a portion of his plans and hideouts. Thierry was not completely sure how he felt about placing so much importance on her information, but it was the best lead they had at the moment since the wizards they captured during the battle at place Pigalle either knew nothing of value or feared Serrier's retribution should they talk more than they feared going to jail. Thierry was not sure he blamed them. With the exception of Raymond, every wizard who had talked in exchange for a lighter sentence had met a nasty end in prison, despite the best efforts of the wardens.
He watched helplessly as Alain pushed the chair back, the legs scraping harshly across the white tiles on the kitchen floor. His face contorted, he began pacing, a caged lion with no way to escape the confines of its cell. "You're going to wear yourself out and then you'll be no good to Orlando when we do find him," Thierry scolded, though he knew his admonishment would meet with scorn.
He was right.
"Like you'd be sitting here calmly if Sebastien were the one in their hands," Alain snarled.
"No, I wouldn't be," Thierry agreed, "and you'd be sitting where I am, reminding me to take care of myself."
"I should be out searching for him," Alain protested. "I have the best chance of sensing him if they've got him hidden!"
"Maybe," Thierry allowed, "but you can't go with every patrol--that would take too long. It's faster to let them do their jobs while you rest. We aren't sending inexperienced people into the sites. They know Serrier's tricks."
Alain shook his head, but Thierry ignored him. "You've barely slept since he was taken, except for the few hours I knocked you out. You can't go on like that and expect to be able to feed Orlando when he is rescued." He emphasized the word is, absolutely refusing to consider what might happen to both Alain and Orlando if they could not find the vampire in time.
Alain's face crumpled. "You don't understand," he insisted. "He can't feed from anyone else but me, so he's going to be slower to recover from whatever they do to him." He struggled to explain thoughts and feelings that defied rationality. "He's the other half of me, Thierry. It feels like my soul's being torn in two, just being apart from him. And when I can feel him hurting, it's even worse. I can't rest because he can't."
Thierry did not ask how that had happened in less than a month. He did not have to. He had a partner of his own, albeit without the added depth of the brand on Alain's neck. He could not sense Sebastien's emotions the way Alain could sense Orlando's, but he knew he would be just as frantic, just as far beyond reason, if Sebastien were missing instead of simply out on his way to get Alain's clothes from Orlando's apartment.
"I do understand," Thierry replied softly, a slight blush staining his cheeks as he thought about everything that had transpired between Sebastien and himself since their first meeting, culminating in their lovemaking last night.
The look on Thierry's face was so at odds with the blond wizard's usual demeanor that it roused Alain from his self-absorption. Not even Thierry's blush was enough to supplant Orlando in his thoughts, but Thierry had been his best friend for thirty years. He would not be much of a friend if he could not acknowledge the change in the other man's life despite the turmoil in his own. "Being with Sebastien seems to agree with you. You look happy again in a way you haven't in a long time."
Thierry's blush deepened. "I knew from watching you and Orlando together that making love with a vampire would be even more amazing than just having one feed from me, but I hadn't even come close to imagining what it felt like to have his fangs in my neck when we.... Sorry," he broke off, seeing the odd look on Alain's face, "too much information."
"It's not that," Alain replied, his voice tight with suppressed emotion. "It's just that we never.... Orlando never fed from me while we made love. He was afraid he'd hurt me."
"Merde," Thierry cursed under his breath. "I'm sorry, Alain. I can't seem to say anything right tonight."
"There isn't anything to say," Alain said hoarsely. "He had his reasons and I have to respect that." He turned away, not wanting Thierry to see the depth of his pain, made worse by the accidental comment. He should have known he could not hide from Thierry, though. A comforting hand settled on his shoulder.
"We'll get him back," Thierry promised, "and when we do, you can change his mind."
"That's the worst part," Alain rasped. "I think he had changed his mind, but there wasn't time. We got the news of the attack at place Pigalle and spent the evening focused on that. And then he was captured."
"Then in the office before we left, you weren't...?" Thierry began.
"He jerked me off as he fed, but that's hardly making love," Alain explained. "You arrived right at the end."
"I'm sorry. If I'd known, I wouldn't have interrupted," Thierry apologized.
Alain shrugged, but his emotions were raw in his voice. "You couldn't have known, but even if you had, there wasn't time, and I wouldn't have wanted to share something that intimate for the first time in the office anyway. I just wish we'd had more time."
"You'll have the time," Thierry promised. "We'll get him back and end this war and you'll have the rest of your life to discover everything about each other. You have to believe that."
"You tell me that, and then you won't let me do anything to find him!" Alain shouted.
"What would you do that we aren't already doing?" Thierry demanded. "Tell me one thing you can do right now that no one else can do just as well and I'll stop hassling you to rest and let you go do it. One thing, Alain."
Alain opened his mouth to reply, only to shut it again, frustration easily visible on his face. "Damn it, Thierry, I can't just sit here and do nothing!"
"You aren't going to sit anywhere," Thierry replied firmly. "As soon as Sebastien gets back, you're going to take a shower, change clothes, and go to sleep, if I have to knock you out myself. On second thought, the shower can wait for tomorrow. You have to sleep or you won't be able to search tomorrow either. Orlando needs you strong, not on the verge of collapse."
"Fuck you," Alain snarled angrily, pulling away from Thierry and stalking toward the door. "I don't know why you think you know what's best for me, but you don't. Not this time. I'm not going to stay here and listen to your platitudes and condescending attitude. If you won't help me find him, then I'll do it on my own."
The words hurt, even knowing the irrationality that motivated them. They hurt enough that Thierry did not react immediately, biting back his own temper as he tried to keep the shouting match from escalating. Alain apparently did not need any input from Thierry to keep the argument going, though.
"Are you jealous?" Alain snapped, turning back when he reached the door. "Is that why you won't help me? Or are you just too interested in dragging Sebastien back into bed when he gets here to give a shit about what they're doing to Orlando?"
"Don't even go there," Thierry growled back, his temper getting the better of him. "You know I busted my balls last night and all day today trying to find him, but I'm exhausted, you're exhausted, and the only reason Sebastien isn't is because he's a vampire. There isn't any more we can do tonight."
"What's going on?" Sebastien asked, walking into the tense situation.
Alain's head turned, his glare transferring to the vampire, but whatever words sprang to his lips never passed them. Thierry hit him in the side with a sleeping spell before they could. Sebastien's quick reflexes kept the unconscious wizard from hitting the floor.
"You should have let him fall," Thierry muttered. "Ungrateful bastard."
Sebastien's eyebrows shot up. "What in the world happened?" he asked again, hefting Alain over his shoulder and starting toward the bedroom. "I've never seen you act that way toward Alain."
"Dump him in bed and I'll tell you," Thierry answered, the sting of Alain's accusations still strong.
Sebastien carried the other wizard into the guest room and settled him on the bed, pulling off his shoes so he could sleep more comfortably. He set down the bag of Alain's things he carried where the wizard would see it when he awoke and returned to the kitchen. "Okay, what's going on?"
Thierry sighed. "I haven't a fucking clue. We were talking--of course, he wants to keep searching for Orlando even though he's completely strung out--and then he asked about you... about us. I answered his question honestly because I've never had any secrets from him, and it hit a nerve. And the next thing I know, he's shouting at me, accusing me of keeping him from going after Orlando because I'm jealous of their bond or because I just want to get you in bed again. How can he think that?"
"He doesn't think it," Sebastien insisted. "He isn't thinking at all. He's absolutely out of his mind with worry and fear. Imagine what it would feel like to be forced to sit and watch Serrier torture Alain. You're in the room, but you can't say anything, can't do anything to stop it. All you can do is suffer with him. That's what Alain's going through with Orlando. He can't see it, but he can feel Orlando's pain, and he's helpless. And it's driving him to say and do things he doesn't mean and would never normally do. But he can't stop himself because he's hurting and so he lashes out at the people around him. He knows, on some level, that nothing he does would be enough to break your friendship and so he's letting all the filth inside him out at you."
"It wasn't even the things he said," Thierry mused softly, Sebastien's presence calming him. "It was the hateful way he said them, like he wanted to hurt me."
"He probably did," Sebastien admitted. "In some twisted way, it probably made him feel less alone to know you were miserable too." He took a deep breath and forced himself to remember the darkest days of his life. "When Thibaut died, I was angry at the universe. The cruel irony of the Aveu de Sang is that the Avoue can't be turned because his partner can't drain him or her, but in the first flush of love, I didn't consider that. He was young. I didn't think about what would happen when he was old. So there I was, holding the body of my Avoue, alone for the first time in almost sixty years. Vampires came to hold vigil with me, but I didn't want company. I wanted to be alone to grieve. The anger was eating me up inside so I lashed out at everyone, trying to drive them away. Some of them went, but one woman stayed and let me pour out all that ugliness until I was exhausted and had nothing else to give. I asked her finally why she put up with that, and she told me I had to get it out or go insane with it and she refused to see another vampire perish from bottled-up grief. I never saw her again after that night. She came to comfort me and left again, taking my pain with her."
"So what will happen now?"
"I don't know," Sebastien admitted. "Alain's the human half of the Aveu de Sang, not the vampire half, and I don't know of any cases where the human lost the vampire rather than the other way around. I'm sure it's happened. I just don't know of any instances. And Orlando isn't lost. Missing, yes, but not lost, at least not yet, so Alain has hope to hold onto. Of course, that could complicate things, even make them worse as his grief wars with that hope. I just don't know."
"Can you think of any other way to find Orlando that we haven't already tried?" Thierry asked instead. "Alain can sense him. Can we use that?"
"Maybe," Sebastien replied. "I could always tell if Thibaut was home when I got there if I'd been out at night, could always tell when he came home even before I heard him moving around. Alain says it isn't directional, but he might be able to narrow down where to search by the strength of the feelings. We'll just have to experiment and see."
"It would be easy enough to create a grid in the city and check each one to see if the feeling got stronger or weaker," Thierry mused aloud. "The more areas we eliminate, the more we'd be able to concentrate our forces."
"And because Alain would have to be involved, it would ease some of his frustration at doing nothing."
"Not to mention giving him a reason not to block the bond the way Marcel wants him to do while he's on duty," Thierry added. "If that helps ease a little of his guilt, maybe he'll be able to focus more clearly on using the bond to tell us something useful in the search."
Sebastien nodded. "You should sleep, too, while he's out, because if this morning was any indication, once your spell wears off, he'll be fighting to go again."
Thierry smiled sadly. "I used a stronger spell this time than last night, so hopefully that'll buy us a little more time, but you're right." He offered the vampire his hand. "I can't even imagine what torture he's going through." He shuddered. "I'm not jealous of their bond and I'm not unaware of how much Alain's hurting, but if he'd accused me of being glad it wasn't you, he'd have been right."
Sebastien took the outstretched hand, walking at Thierry's side toward their bedroom. "That's a perfectly normal reaction. I felt the same way when Laurent was killed. I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone, but I was ridiculously thankful it wasn't you."
Crossing the threshold, Thierry pulled the vampire's slighter form against his, holding on. Sebastien returned the embrace, their bodies resting together, each drawing strength and solace from the other's presence. With unspoken agreement, they undressed each other and climbed into bed, lying face to face, arms around each other in silent support until Thierry's eyes finally closed in sleep.
The wave of anger Orlando felt from Alain surprised him. He understood the frustration, the fear, the grief, but this was a new emotion. The vampire felt his fangs begin to elongate, his hackles rising at the thought of someone upsetting his wizard.
He tried to project back calming thoughts, assuring Alain of his relative safety and of the depth of his love, but the emotions did not seem to penetrate. Concern growing, Orlando rose to pace the room. He did not know what had happened to work Alain up into the frenzy that came through their bond, but not being able to go to his lover, to soothe him, was a physical ache in Orlando's chest. Angrily, he rattled the door to his prison cell, but the lock was as secure as the first time he had tried.
As suddenly as the anger had begun, it ended, sending a jolt of panic through Orlando. It took a moment to realize that Alain was asleep. He frowned, the contrast between the vibrancy of the anger and the calm of Alain's sleeping mind striking him as odd, until he remembered that his lover was a wizard, undoubtedly surrounded by other wizards. He would not put it past Thierry or Marcel to put Alain to sleep, if that was what it took to calm him down.
Relaxing a little, he returned to the narrow cot that was the only furniture in the room, the springs poking him through the thin mattress. Still, Orlando thought, it could be worse. He could be sleeping on the stone floor.
The rattle of a key in the lock drew his attention. He rose to his feet, preferring to face whoever came through the door from a position of relative power. If he had the chance to fight, he intended to take it. The wizards could overpower him with their magic, but physically they were no match for his preternatural strength.
The big wizard, the one who used to be Alain's friend, stood at the door, wand in hand. "You're Eric Simonet, aren't you?" Orlando asked before the wizard could bind him.
The question took Eric completely off guard. "Why do you want to know?" he demanded.
"Alain told me about you," Orlando replied simply. "He misses you."
Eric frowned, not wanting to hear such things. They made his job so much more difficult. Especially now. "That's in the past," he ground out.
"For you, maybe, but not for him."
"You know him well?" Eric asked, remembering that he had seen this vampire fighting at Magnier's side during the battle where he was taken.
Orlando did not answer, unable to force himself to deny it, yet not willing to give the dark wizards any information that might help them.
Eric took the silence as an affirmation. "I have only one regret," he told the vampire. "That he and Thierry hate me now."
"They don't!" Orlando protested. "They would welcome you back with open arms."
"It's too late for that. Serrier's waiting for you." * * * *
David told himself he was a fool for coming to Sang Froid uninvited, especially after the way he and Angelique had argued the last time they were alone together. He had fought at her side during the battle at place Pigalle, determined not to leave her unprotected regardless of the tension between them on a personal level, but he did not have the excuse of Milice business, the alliance, or her protection now. He only had the inexplicable gut feeling that she needed him.
Her manager showed him in silently, not asking questions, simply guiding him to the door of her private quarters and leaving him there. He raised his hand to knock, knuckles hovering an inch from the door. He had absolutely no idea how she would react to his arrival, he realized with a twinge. He was her partner, but he was quite sure she considered him neither friend nor lover, despite the fact he would have liked to be both.
His hand fell to the doorknob, turning it and walking inside. Angelique stood by the open window, wrapped tightly in a thick shawl, her arms wrapped around her waist as she stared blindly at the starry sky. He wanted to go to her and offer comfort, but he was afraid she would take it the wrong way. She already accused him of thinking she was weak because of her past. Implying now that she was not independent enough to deal with whatever was bothering her would only make matters worse. He knew that, and yet he felt compelled to check on her.
She turned at the sound of his footsteps, dark eyes luminous as she stared at him for a moment. He opened his mouth to speak, to ask what was wrong, but before he could say anything, she was moving toward him, reaching for him, inviting the embrace he had wanted to offer. His arms closed tightly around her, feeling the slight shivers that wracked her body. He crooned to her softly, his hands stroking up and down her back in silent comfort.
Angelique shuddered more strongly as she let down her guard now that she did not have to face the memory of Karine's broken body alone. She did not know what had brought David to her, but she did not care. She needed him and he was here. Nothing else mattered at the moment. One large hand moved up to cradle the back of her head, holding her against his shoulder, sliding through her long hair with soothing repetitiveness. Slowly, she felt herself relax.
Her body went limp in his arms, but he could feel the underlying unease that remained. He kneaded gently at the stiff muscles of her back, a frown forming as he realized how upset she truly was. Glancing around the living room, he saw a doorway leading to a hall. "You need to relax. Come with me."
He led her down the corridor, opening doors until he found the bathroom, pleased to see a large claw-foot tub against the wall. He opened the taps and poured in a generous measure of bath salts he saw on the shelf above the tub, then he turned back to Angelique, loosening the brocade shawl from around her shoulders. Keeping his touch as impersonal as possible, he unbuttoned her blouse, eyes drawn inevitably to the fading henna marks on her breasts and belly. He resisted the urge to trace them again as he had done when they were fresh, setting her shirt aside neatly and unfastening her skirt.
She stood unmoving as he undressed her, making him wonder if she was in shock. He studied her eyes, the pupils dilated, though that could be as much from the dim light in the room as from shock. He folded her skirt and put it on top of her blouse. A glance at her feet revealed soft slippers so he unsnapped the clasp on her bra, pointedly ignoring his body's reaction to her full breasts, and slid off the matching underwear. He piled her hair messily on top of her head, securing it with a clip and trying not to think how it highlighted the tempting curve of her neck. Testing the temperature of the water, he urged her to step out of her slippers and into the tub.
She moved mechanically, sitting down in the chest-deep water, the bubbles hiding her from his gaze again. Seeing her settled, he started toward the door, intending to find her a brandy or something, anything to help restore her to herself. The touch of her hand on his startled him. "Don't go," she whispered, her voice barely audible. "Don't leave me alone."
He turned back immediately, the quiet pleading in her voice so different from her usual, assertive tone that it overcame any hesitation he had about watching her in her bath. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
"No," she answered honestly, her eyes closing as the words conjured up images she would rather forget. She knew they would never completely leave her, one more set of nightmares to haunt her resting mind.
David accepted the demurral, sitting on the rug next to the tub. He folded her hand between his, thumb stroking her wrist gently, comfortingly, as he traced the lines of henna on her skin.
Eyes closed, the sight of the blood on Karine's body haunted her, bringing back memories she tried to suppress. Most of the sultan's guests had been well-mannered, not wanting to lose her master's favor, but the slave master who had first trained her had not been so kind. She knew all too well the terror of being forced onto her back, onto her knees, body used with no concern for her pain. He had been careful not to mark her, but he had been determined to break her, to turn her into a slave with no thought other than her master's pleasure. "They raped that poor girl before they killed her," she said hoarsely, a shudder going through her as she remembered the fear of those early days, never knowing when her body would be used, or by whom. She had put that experience behind her once she was in the harem. At least there, she was always given time to prepare herself for her lovers, allowed the freedom of movement to guide their interactions in ways that brought her pleasure as well. She rarely thought of the slave master now, but finding Karine had brought it all back.
"What girl?" David asked softly, unaware of the situation.
"Jean's... friend, Karine," Angelique said, realizing she did not know what other title to give the young woman. "Her body was dumped on my doorstep this morning. She'd been tortured horribly and brutally raped before...." Her voice broke on the words, unable to finish her sentence.
"Don't think about it anymore," David instructed, though he knew that was easier said than done. "Concentrate on what you're feeling now. The hot water relaxing you, the sandalwood bath salts soaking into your skin, the scent filling your nose. Let everything else go."
None of those things provided sufficient distraction, but the touch of his hand did. Turning her hand so their fingers entwined, she pulled him toward her, bringing his palm to her cheek and resting against it. His fingers stroked the smooth skin of her cheek, one digit sliding lower, behind her ear, sending a shiver of a very different sort through her. Rising to her feet, the water sluicing down her skin, she reached for a towel, pressing it into his hands invitingly.
David took the towel, desire kicking him hard in the gut as she bent to let the water out of the tub, then straightened again, body on full display. He pushed that emotion aside, though. She did not need a slavering madman. She needed to be held, cosseted, comforted, even if she would disagree. Shaking open the towel, he wrapped it around her as she stepped from the tub into his arms. Tendrils of her hair tickled his chin, curling damply from the steam of the bath. He brushed his lips across them as his hands rubbed briskly over the cloth. She leaned into the touch of his hands, her body undulating gracefully as he dried her.
"Take me to bed," she murmured, her lips moving against his neck as she spoke.
David froze, aching to take what she was offering. He tipped her head up toward his, kissing her sweetly, tenderly. Her body arched against his, the thick nap of the towel not shielding her eagerness in any way as she responded to the kiss, licking at his lips in invitation.
He allowed himself one long, lingering kiss, plundering her mouth with all the passion she incited before he lifted his head and tucked her face against his shoulder, his chin resting on the crown of her head. She squirmed in his arms, but he held her tightly, stroking her back soothingly. "You need to rest," he insisted. "Have you slept at all since we fought off Serrier's wizards?"
Angelique's head snapped up, eyes flashing. "Don't tell me what I need!"
David hushed her softly, urging her head back to his shoulder. "I'm not being condescending," he promised, "but I saw you when I came in. You were barely reacting to anything around you, including me. You're exhausted and probably in shock, and I wouldn't be doing either of us any favors by having sex with you tonight. It would only make things more complicated than they already are. Just let me hold you tonight."
Stepping away from him, she reached up to unclasp her hair, deliberately putting herself on display for him. It was a gesture she had learned to use to great effect in the harem, the angle of her arms lifting her breasts as if in offering. The dark locks tumbled free, falling in disarray around her shoulders, down her back and over her chest, hiding her partially from his view. Holding his gaze, she slowly brushed her tresses back over her shoulders, revealing her bosom again.
He tore his eyes away, turning his back on her and walking the rest of the way down the hall to the bedroom. He had offered to stay. Now he would have to find the fortitude to resist the bounty on display until he knew for sure it was what she wanted--not because she needed comfort but because she wanted him.
Perturbed, she tossed the towel over the rack and, nude, followed him down the hall. He was not supposed to be able to resist her charms, not when she finally decided to offer herself to him. Still, he had walked toward her room, not toward the door, which meant she would have another opportunity. Once she got him naked and in bed, she would overcome his scruples.
She walked into the bedroom to find him picking through her underwear drawer, in search of what, she had no idea. The scowl on his face each time he pulled out another sheer negligee made her smile. "If you're looking for something to make it easier to resist me, you're out of luck," she informed him drolly. "All my nightwear is intended to entice, not to hide."
His scowl deepened, but he did not give voice to his dour thoughts. Had the situation been different, he would not have been complaining about enticement on her part, but tonight, he needed to stay in control. Pulling his sweater and T-shirt off, he tossed the soft cotton garment in her direction. "Put that on. It should cover you some."
Angelique raised the garment to her face, inhaling deeply of David's strong, masculine scent. She considered refusing on principle, but the thought of sleeping surrounded by his shirt was its own turn-on. She slipped it over her head, smiling when the hem only brushed the top of her buttocks, leaving them and her nest of curls still bare to his view.
David sighed as he realized his mistake. While his shirt covered her breasts and most of the henna tattoos, it focused his gaze lower, on her long legs and curl-covered mound. There was nothing to be done about it now, though. He gestured toward the bed. "Go on, lie down."
"Don't even think you're getting in my bed with your jeans on," she warned as she did as he directed, slipping under the duvet and watching him expectantly.
David's lips tightened, but he stripped down to his dark briefs, knowing the tight fit of the clingy fabric would reveal his half-swollen state, but Angelique had been a courtesan. She knew the effect she had on men. She was not at all above exploiting it either, if her actions tonight were any indication. Setting his jeans aside, he climbed in bed with her, rolling her to her side so he could spoon up behind her, his body surrounding hers. His hands settled, one on her hip, the other on her stomach, holding her firmly against him but limiting her range of movement.
Angelique let him move her as he pleased, enjoying the feeling of his hands on her body, even for something as utilitarian as finding a comfortable position. When he had them settled and made no move to do anything else, she squirmed back against him, rubbing her bottom against his swiftly growing shaft, a thrill of pleasure going through her at the idea that he was not completely immune to her charms.
"Hold still," he growled in her ear, the desire to abandon his scruples making it hard to lie still himself. "You're supposed to be relaxing."
"That's easier said than done with you poking me in the back," she teased huskily, hoping it would not be long before he was poking her other places. "There's a quick solution to both our restlessness."
David pushed up on one elbow and looked down at her seriously. "You really have no idea how confusing you are, do you? One minute, you tell me not to treat you like a concubine, and the next, you're inciting me like a cock tease and I don't know how I'm supposed to react to that. If I give in, you accuse me of treating you like everyone else, but you do your best to taunt me into treating you that way anyway, even when I'm trying to be a gentleman. Is that really what you want, Angelique? Do you really want me to roll you beneath me and use you for an empty physical release? If that's really what you want, I'll give it to you--hell, I'm only a man and you'd tempt a saint--but I'd rather comfort you."
Angelique looked up at him seriously. "You would lie here next to me, as we are, and be content with nothing more than holding me while we slept?"
David snorted. "You haven't heard a word I've said since I walked in the door, have you? Yes, Angelique, I would be content with that because it's what you need right now. I'm not a martyr. I'm sure, if we sleep like this enough nights, I'll end up giving in to your temptation, but I'd rather do it on a night when we both want it rather than on a night so fraught with high emotion." He settled back on the bed and adjusted her in his embrace, one hand slipping beneath his shirt to rest on the skin of her abdomen. He nuzzled her neck softly. "Some night when you've painted yourself for me. For now, sleep. There's time enough for the rest later."
She shivered at the touch of his hand on bare skin, at the thought of decorating her body for his pleasure. It would be hers as well. He would be a considerate lover, she was sure, taking the time to ensure her pleasure before finding his own. His insistence on caring for her tonight was proof of that.
She snuggled deeper into his embrace, letting his warmth seep into her very bones, chasing away the chill of the night and the horror of the morning. She did not expect to sleep, certainly not quickly. Between the events of the morning and the desire his presence inspired, she was wound too tightly to even think of resting. The slow stroke of his thumb on her skin was soothing, though, his breathing low and even, barely ruffling the hair by her ear. Her last thought before she drifted off into reverie was that she could get used to this.
If last night after the battle outside Sang Froid someone had told David he would spend the following night in Angelique's bed, he would have laughed in their face, yet here he was, exactly where a part of him had wanted to be from the very beginning. She was two completely different women, he mused as her body relaxed slowly in his arms. Strong, determined, capable, independent--the side she showed the world, and then there was this sudden, unexpected vulnerability.
She would hate him for being glad to see that softness beneath the world-wise exterior, but it appealed to him, to his better side. If he had not seen it, he would never have had the strength to resist her tonight, and he was glad he had, glad to simply hold her and offer comfort that way. He suspected she had not had a lot of non-sexual comfort in her life. His breath caught on the sudden realization that he wanted to be the one to provide it, to show her all the things she had missed in life.
He suppressed a chuckle. If that did not earn him a glare and probably a thump, he did not know what would. He did not have to tell her. He would simply show her. Arms tightening a little, he was surprised to see she had fallen asleep. With a smile, he closed his eyes and joined her.