Born of Fury (Page 23)

Born of Fury (The League #7)(23)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

“Really?”

“Really. Fain has always said that I’m a particularly vexing and talented… hemorrhoid.”

Sumi bit back a laugh at his editing of what she was sure his brother actually called him.

“Mostly,” he continued, “because I had two older brothers who took turns bossing me every minute of every day. And because I don’t like being told what to do, I always had an issue with them thinking they were my parents.” Dancer touched the tip of Darice’s nose. “And like you, I’m quite vocal when I don’t like something.”

“Is that why you never want to spend time with me? Why you never come to any of my games when I ask you to?”

Sumi’s throat tightened at the pain in Darice’s voice as he asked that question.

His jaw slack, Dancer lifted his head to stare down at his nephew. “I never miss your games, Dare.”

Curling his lip, Darice started to rise, but Dancer held him in place. “You’re a liar! Let go of me!”

With a fierce grimace, Dancer refused. He forced Darice back and held him with one arm while he turned on the small PD on his wrist. He swiped the screen with his finger. “See for yourself. I was even there at your last match when you scored the winning goal in overtime.”

Darice went perfectly still as he saw what must be a photo of him during the game. His lips trembling, he used his index finger to skim through the pictures on Dancer’s module. “I don’t understand. If you were there, why have you never come to see me after the games?”

“Because I’m not your father and I’ve never been in the Andarion military. Your mother said it would shame you for your friends and their fathers to see me there. So I always go when you play and then leave afterward before any of them see me.”

Sumi choked at the pain in his voice.

His brow furrowed, Darice continued to flick through the photos. “You were at my graduation?”

“I’ve always been there for you, Dare. And I always will be. Any time you need me, all you have to do is call.”

Tears glistened in Darice’s eyes as he tried to digest what Dancer showed and told him, against the lies his mother must have filled him with. “Why don’t you ever take me for weekends?”

“Whenever I go to pick you up, you’re always busy with school, games, practice, and your friends. Your mother says that it’s better for your growth that you stay with her, especially given the shame and embarrassment I would bring to you should any of them see me with you. It’s why I’ve only been allowed to train you for Endurance climbing every few months or so.”

Darice swallowed hard as he clutched at his uncle’s arm that held the module that catalogued how much Dancer loved him. “You don’t shame or embarrass me, Dancer.”

“That’s not what you’ve said in the past. I thought I was doing what you wanted… what was best for you, by leaving you with your mother and staying in the background.”

His gaze troubled and fretting, Darice fell silent as he turned off the module then laid his head on Dancer’s biceps.

Sumi moved forward, expecting Darice to say something snotty to her. Or jump up indignantly from Dancer’s arms. Instead, he merely watched her approach them from where he lay cradled.

“How are you feeling?”

Dancer licked his lips. “Wrung out. You?”

“I’m fine.” She knelt beside them and felt his forehead with the back of her hand. “Your fever’s not as bad.” Then she handed him the small cup. “It’s more of the antidote.”

He wrinkled his nose at the smell, but said nothing before he dutifully drank it. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.” She took the cup back then smiled at Darice. “I’m making more salad for your dinner.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, he twisted his face into an expression of supreme disgust. “I don’t like eating plants.”

She widened her smile. “And that’s why I made it for you.”

Dancer laughed. “Now you know what it’s like to have a sibling, Dare. They all treat you that way. The minute they know you don’t like something, they’re honor bound to torture you with it. For eternity.”

“Then I’m glad I’m currently an only child.” He closed his eyes again and sighed contentedly.

Dancer caught her hand before she moved away. “What can I do for you?”

Sumi hesitated, wondering if he even realized how he phrased things. He never thought of himself first. Rather, he put everyone’s needs above his own. “Rest. Get better for me.”

“I feel useless lying here. I should be —”

“You should be resting,” she repeated firmly. Then she dropped her gaze to Darice. “Plus, I think he needs some uninterrupted guy time.”

Only then did Dancer nod. “If you need anything, let me know.”

“Fair enough.” Sumi brushed a stray piece of hair back from Darice’s cheek before she stood and left them alone.

As she reached the opening, she heard Darice’s faint voice. “Are all humans like her, Dancer?”

“How do you mean?”

“Kind and gentle. Caring.”

“Sadly, no. Especially not to Andarions. She’s very different from most of her kind.”

“Ah… Is that why you like her?”

“No. It’s why I treasure her. Now, shush and give me peace from your questions for a while.”

Those words made her heart swell with an inexplicable joy. Dancer treasured her. Was it even possible?

“Are you okay?”

She looked up at Thia’s question as she neared the fire. “Fine. Why?”

Thia shrugged. “You have a strange, weepy look on your face.”

She set the cup down and checked their dinner. “Do I?”

“Yeah, you kind of look like I do whenever I get a new boyfriend.”

Sumi arched her brow at that offhand comment. “How many boyfriends have you had?”

“A ton. I cycle through them faster than socks.”

“Really?”

Thia nodded as she fed Illyse. “Not entirely my fault. First, they get pissy that I don’t sleep with them within fifteen minutes of meeting them. Then when they find out why, i.e., my father, the psycho-killer let’s-gut-people-for-fun, really is an assassin and bigger than most shuttles, and has not one, but five major armies at his command, they hit the door screaming.”

“I can see where that might be unnerving.”

Thia checked the cooking stew. “Did your father ever have issue with your choice of boyfriends?”

“Not really. From the time I turned fifteen, my father assumed I was a slut, so he didn’t care who I dated. Best I ever got out of him was that he better not find us nak*d in his bed.”

“I’m sorry, Sumi.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. It is what it is.”

To her complete shock, Thia hugged her. “I think you’re great.”

“I think you’re great, too.” Sumi gave the girl a strong squeeze before she released her and finished making their dinner.

That night, she took sentry duty, and it gave her a whole new appreciation for Dancer’s stamina.

Yawning, she stretched then jogged in place, trying to stay alert.

“You look like an adorable little girl when you do that.”

She jerked around with a gasp to find Dancer standing behind her. “Dear gods, man, make a sound when you move!”

“Not a man,” he reminded her simply.

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. I just don’t understand how someone so huge is so silent. It’s not natural.”

He gave her a charming, lopsided grin. “Grow up with two parents who have Andarion hearing and a nasty temper, and you’ll learn to be silent, too.”

“I guess so,” she said with a laugh. “Get caught much?”

“Never. But I was often sacrificed.”

“Meaning?”

“Whenever they got caught, my brothers threw me to the parental units and ran for cover, leaving me behind to face them. Alone. They were both selfish bastards that way.”

She cringed at what had to be less-than-pleasant memories for him. “Sorry.”

Dancer shrugged nonchalantly. “Curse of being the youngest. I never could get away in time. But it gave me a lot of good survival skills. And a really tough ass. For that, I’m eternally grateful.” He took the rifle from her shoulder. “You should go rest.”

“I’m not the one who was poisoned,” she reminded him.

“That wasn’t poisoned. Trust me. I’ve eaten Jayne’s cooking. It’s far deadlier.”

He was so incredibly tempting. More so in that he never really insulted anyone. Not even Dariana. Rather, he had a teasing, fun-loving way of looking at others’ shortcomings and actions.

“I still don’t feel right leaving you to guard us after what you’ve been through, and what you’ve already done for us.”

“Then sit with me and keep me company.” He sank down in front of the small outcropping of rocks so that he could lean against them.

The sight of him there, like that… was more than a mere woman could turn away from. She sat down beside him and made sure to keep a little distance between them.

Dancer gave her a chiding stare. “I don’t bite, Sumi.”

“I know.” She was more afraid she might start nibbling on some of that lush tawny skin. Especially his jaw. It was the sexiest thing she’d ever seen on any male.

Against her better judgment, she leaned into his arms and let him hold her like he’d done Darice earlier. He rested his chin on the top of her head as his warmth enveloped her. As promised, he kept his hands to himself while they sat there, listening to the quiet desert breeze.

Hauk smiled as he felt Sumi fall asleep in a matter of heartbeats. Only then did he adjust her weight slightly so that she wasn’t pressing so much on the part of him that was most desperate for her. His senses light, he brushed his face against the softest hair he’d ever felt and inhaled her unique scent.

She was the sweetest heaven.

And the most torturous hell.

As he held her, he was rock hard and aching for a taste of her soft, voluptuous body. His back and side throbbed, but he welcomed the distraction from the heavy need in his groin that he could do nothing about.

Closing his eyes, he let her scent wash over him as stupid fantasies tormented him with things he knew he couldn’t have.

Fantasies of her touching him that made no sense. He was an Andarion, fully pledged. She was a human League assassin. Both of them were forbidden to have relations with anyone. Both were hunted by enemies and had a death sentence hanging over them.

Yet as he felt her breath on his skin, none of that mattered. All he wanted was to offer himself to her.

To have her claim him as her mate before everyone. Just once he wanted to know what it was like to be inside a female’s body, and have her hold him while they made love.

Every year since he’d turned nineteen, he’d gone to Dariana in his ancestral temple, in full faith and before his family and hers, for unification. And every year, she’d brutally denied him in front of them all. As if he was defective or unworthy of her.

In the beginning, he’d been hopeful that she’d find some way to forgive him for what had happened to Keris. That in time, she might accept his troth. But that hope had died somewhere in his midtwenties when it became crystal clear that she had no intention of ever seeing his pledge met. Rather, she took a perverse pleasure whenever she opened up his back before their families, and abandoned him to their ridicule and scorn.

When he’d turned thirty, he’d gone to his mother on the eve of another humiliation, and had begged her to negotiate a rare severance with Dariana.

She’d answered his request with the back of her hand. “How dare you shame me with such! You’re a War Hauk. You will do your duty and you will stand before her like the proud Andarion warrior you’re supposed to be, not some sniveling cockless coward! Besides, there is no one else who will have you. Look in a mirror. You’re deformed and revolting. You should be grateful that she hasn’t already broken pledge with you. At least this way, we can pretend you have some value and desirability.”

And as Dariana had done every year before that, when the priest had asked if she found him acceptable for her lineage, she’d sliced open his back and walked out the door. It was the most brutal way for an Andarion female to deny her lineage to a male.

Worse, it’d become a sick sort of ritual for him. One that made him more furious every time he was forced to endure it.

Every year Dariana denied him, he saw more of his mother’s love for him die. She could barely stand to look at him now. She blamed him fully for the shame he brought to their family.

In his heart, he knew Sumi would never do that to him. She would be honorable enough to slit his throat and end his hell. A death sentence for them both. Not force him to undergo public humiliation, year after year.