Authors: Jacquelyn Frank
Jaykun had to admit it sounded like a good one. Some days he thought he might trade his soul for the joys of a simple lifeâ¦but it only took an instant for him to quell such a notion. There was too much at stake in the life he had to lead, too many people whose fates were dependent on him staying the course.
“I don't have time for this,” he muttered, releasing her and looking for his clothes. “My brothers will be looking for me, and there areâ¦there are more important things than having a discussion with a strange girl in a cave.”
He found his clothing and felt her eyes on him as he dressed. He stole a glance at her and found her gaze to be unabashedly curious, much like she was trying to absorb every movement he made, every inch of his body. The understanding made an unexpected frisson of arousal bleed through his sharp, intense movements. He tried to fight it back, but it was hard to do when his gaze was attracted to the long supple lines of her limbs and the lush curves of her body. She was young and nubile and everything any man would find arousing. Even a man barely healed from his trials of the night.
Angry with his unruly responses and determined not to follow up the feelings with any regrettable behavior, he didn't even bother with his shirt and, bare chested, moved to push past her.
“Can I come with you?” she asked, again with that open curiosity. It was as though she found everything to be new and adventurous. An odd thing considering the land they were in at present was war torn.
Again, unwillingly, his gaze was attracted to her dark, silky flesh.
“Not like that you can't,” he said sharply. “A naked girl in a camp full of soldiers? Even I couldn't stop them ifâ¦ifâ¦” The thoughts that followed were so unpalatable they made Jaykun's stomach churn.
“But if I had clothing?” she said, moving closer to him again. He wished she would stop doing that. Every time she came close, his body tightened up, as though expecting something exciting to happen. It was completely at odds with a mind that wanted nothing to do with her.
“Then you could do whatever you wanted to. I'm not likely to stop you.”
“Very well,” she said, her words soft and whispery as she reached out for his hand. He could have jerked away from her, put distance between them, but he was suddenly paralyzed, curious and hungry for whatever she was going to do next. Her slender fingers touched the back of his hand, stroked over it, running up over the knuckles of his fingers until his grip went unexpectedly lax. Then she was taking his tunic out of his hand.
He was still, simply staring at her as she drew the tunic over her head, letting the size of it swallow her up before it hung in place to below her knees. Even though she was tall and strong looking, she was still quite a bit smaller than he was, especially in the shoulders.
Seeing her in his clothing had a profoundly strange effect on him. It was somehow the most intimate thing he had experienced since he had been released from his personal hell of being chained to a star. Oh, he could have had sex with any one of the women close at hand; the encampment was lousy with females looking to take coin from the soldiers in exchange for it. But he'd had no desire for that kind of intimacy, wanted no sense of making himself vulnerable to another while that person made herself vulnerable to him. Of sharing something with someone. He'd been vulnerable to women in the past and knew now that nothing good could come of it.
The idea of it made him angry and defensive. He reached out for her suddenly, grabbing her by both arms and shaking her roughly. “What do you want from me?” he demanded, shaking her again. The action made her hair slide over her cheek, and she gently brushed it back behind her delicate ear without shrugging off his hold. It communicated how unruffled she was by his rough handling of her and he could not help but feel overwhelming consternation.
“I want to know you better,” she said softly as she looked up into his eyes. “I find you fascinating. Don't you think you are fascinating? Am I not fascinating to you as well?” she asked, those openly curious eyes drifting over his face and chest.
Oh, he felt something about her all right, but he wasn't certain “fascination” was the word for it. Maybe vexation. Consternation.
At this distance he could smell her, the aroma of seawater and something sweeterâ¦sultrierâ¦lifting off her. She was warm and compelling, soft and sensual, beckoning and beautiful.
“Beyond fascination,” he admitted, his voice rough with his overwhelming desire for her. It was so unexpected, so incongruous to the state of his life, that he couldn't hope to control his next actions. He jerked her in close against his body, feeling her weight press against his chest, deepening that strange sense of intimacy between them. Then he crushed his lips against hers, fueling the kiss with his confusion and frustrated need.
At least she had the wherewithal to be surprisedâ¦for a moment. Then she became bright and eager against him, her hands lifting to frame his face, ostensibly to hold him to his task. The open invitation was far more than he could bear, certainly nothing to encourage him to break off and put a stop to his madness.
No. Instead he found her mouth full of warmth and willingness. It was a potent idea, that she was being driven to this just as he was. It made him feel a little better for it, a little less like he was being managed by a practiced, seductive hand. That wasn't to say there was nothing seductive about her. In fact, she was everything compelling and sexually stimulating he could have imagined. He pulled her in, devouring her with hungry lips, opening his mouth over hers and driving his tongue between her lush lips. At first he tasted salt, but that was to be expected since they were still standing in the sea. But the impression was faint and fleeting because the next instant he was tasting
A sweet and deep flavor. An alluring and compelling taste. She was like honey against a bitter tongue, soothing and dissolving and sweet.
Then there was the feel of her nubile body against his, her whole being radiating how eager she was to be alongside him. His hands left her arms and spread across her back, pulling her in tight, his body soaking in the heat of hers and the way it made him feel. And as he kissed her wildly, for a moment, for just a moment, he forgot about who he was, forgot about the curse that hung over his head, forgot about his responsibilities to his brothers and his goddess. Forgot about Casiria and all the baggage that came with his memories of his wife. And that, above all else, was the most wondrous thing about Jileana.
The moment he realized it, though, the moment he comprehended how easily she had made him forget himself, he thrust her away, leaving them both panting and dazed, her eyes looking as stunned and delighted as he was feeling. Although, he wasn't ready to admit to the delighted part. He was too busy telling himself that it was wrong for him to forget himself like that. That he had to keep focused. So why, then, in the next moment did he seize her again and draw her back into his body, kissing her once more as if his life depended on it? A strange concept, a surreal one, considering he was immortal.
But oh, she was so sweet. So tender in form and function. He had kissed many women in his time, but none had had the combination of sultry innocence he was deriving from Jileana's kisses. She was not practiced and yet she was a natural. She was not cynical; she was wide-eyed with wonder and excitement. He read all of this from her even though she now said not a word and spoke to him only through her kisses and the flight of her body against his.
He found himself regretting that he had not kissed her before she had put on his tunic. To be holding all that bare, succulent skin beneath his hands would have been more than he could imagine.
This time when he moved away from her mouth it was only in increments, just enough to see down into those iridescent green eyes of hers, to see the flush on her dusky cheeks, the wetness of her ripe lips as her breath came in rapid pants.
“Oh my,” she breathed, her hands clutching at his shoulders.
It made him smile, an expression he used very little. He smiled in spite of the clamoring of his mind and the painful arousal of his body. He was not yet fully healed and his pain had been considerable to begin with. Add to it a racing heart, perspiration, and a hardened cock, and it made for a bit of discomfort.
“I suspect you were sent to seduce me,” he said softly. “Perhaps by those who wish to turn my head from my warring course.”
“Well, I certainly do not wish to get in your way, and I doubt I could make you do anything you don't want to do. I do not seek that kind of power over you. Those are the ways of the sirens.”
“Sirens?” he asked. But then he shook his head. It was unimportant. “So if you were not purposely sent to turn my headâ¦what is it you want from me?”
“Only to learn you, to know you. I confess it had not occurred to me to kiss you in order to know you, but I find doing so has given me a great deal of information.”
That made him laugh because he knew exactly how she was feeling.
“So, what do we do now?” he asked. “Do I continue to kiss you?”
“If you like,” she said, her tone eager and delighted. He found himself smiling again.
“And then what? Do I bed you, sea sprite? Take you into the roughness of my camp and the coarseness of my bed?”
“You do not make it sound at all attractive,” she pointed out with some measure of consternation.
“It isn't. A war camp is not a pretty thing.”
“Then stay with me on the beach,” she said invitingly. “It is clean. The sand is soft. It makes for the best of beds.”
“Hmm. Methinks you are a siren after all. You make it sound too damn inviting.”
“Oh, I'm no siren,” she assured him, making a face as if he had suggested something offensive as opposed to the compliment he had intended. “And sleeping on the beach is the most wonderful thing. To sleep under the stars, hearing the sound of the ocean upon the sand. The call of the sea birds as they dive for their supper. They like to eat the kelp whistles. They are the little fish that swim around seaweeds and glow in the dark. It makes the sea light up so prettyâ¦and yet it makes the fish easy prey for the sea birds. So beautiful and so sad at the same time. But that is the way of things. Everything falls prey to something else.”
“This is too true,” he said with a frown. Even her people, wherever she was from, could fall prey to him. They worshipped Diathus. His task was to seed the world with temples to Weysa. To lure more followers to her way so she could grow stronger through their devotion. If they would not be lured by peaceful meansâ¦then he would more firmly demand.
“You would be well advised to make your way clear of me,” he said, his frown darkening.
“My mother says I am not very good at taking the advice of others.”
And just like that, his frown was gone; his dark mood lightened again.
“So,” he said, moving her to his side a little so he could lead them out of the grotto, “what am I to do with you? As much as I would like to, I cannot spend the night on the beach.”
“Why not?” she asked curiously.
“My brothers will be looking for me. Also, we have a newly acquired city and an army that must be managed.”
“I see. Well, I could come with you. I have never seen the city before. I have been told it holds many fascinating things.”
“I'm sure it does. But if you live here, why have you never been to the city before?”
“I've never had a reason,” she said with a simple shrug. “Besides, my brothers would not approve. They are quite overprotective of me. At least they are in my opinion.”
“If I were your brother, I would be protective too. Especially if you make a habit of wandering the beach naked and kissing strange men.”
“Wellâ¦I do not have any clothesâ¦and I do not usually kiss strange men. But most men don't burn like a star. Certainly not and live to tell about it after. You are unique, Jaykun.”
“We are all unique in some way, Jileana,” he said, shrugging the matter off. He wished she had never seen him suffer his torment, but then she might not have been fascinated enough to approach him. He found that idea unpalatable on two levels: one, that she found his curse so enthralling, and two, that he would have regretted not knowing her. Even after such a brief encounter, he knew his life would have been poorer had it never touched hers. Even in the smallest of ways.
They were walking on the sand now, his arm across her back, still holding her to his side as they traveled up the beach.
“I would see this city, if you please. All I ask is for a small place to sleep that is clean. I do not want anything elseâ¦except perhaps to learn more about you.”
“I am not so fascinating,” he said.
“Oh, but you are,” she argued, her eyes light and eager. “Not just because you burn. You are tall and have a very nice shape. I can see you are quite strong. I find I like your face. It is an interesting face. Your eyes are far more somber than they ought to be, but they are a pretty green and glitter like sea glass.”
“Yes. Quite. But not as much when you smile like you are doing now.”
“Well, it is good to know it is not entirely off-putting. Though I confess to cultivating a stern look to keep my men in line.”
“My father leads a great many men and he is quite jovial. Perhaps you are going about it wrong.”
“Perhaps I am,” he said, smiling again in spite of himself. Truth be told, he hadn't felt this light of mood sinceâ¦well, since he had been brought back.
“What is that?” she asked suddenly.
“The thought that takes your smile away so quickly and so thoroughly like that. What is it?”
“It is none of your concern,” he said brusquely, immediately widening the distance between their bodies. But for some inexplicable reason he did not drop his hand away from her back.