Fantasy Lover (Page 10)

Fantasy Lover (Dark-Hunter #1)(10)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

She couldn’t imagine the degradations he must have suffered over the centuries. Dear Lord, people treated animals better than what he was describing.

"They summoned you, yet none of them ever conversed with you or clothed you?"

"Every man’s fantasy, is it not? To have a million women throwing themselves at him, wanting no commitments, no promises. Wanting nothing from him, other than his body, and the few weeks of pleasure he can give them?" His flippant words didn’t quite mask the acid undertone.

That might be other men’s fantasies, but she could tell it wasn’t his.

"Well," she said, returning to the jeans, "I’m not like that and you’re going to need something to wear when I take you out in public."

Anger snapped so menacingly in his eyes that she took an involuntary step backward. "I wasn’t cursed to be viewed by the public, Grace. I am here for you, and you alone."

How nice that sounded. Still, she wasn’t about to fall for it. She couldn’t use another human being the way Julian described. It was wrong, and she would never be able to live with herself if she did such a thing to him.

"Be that as it may," she said in determination. "I want to take you out in public. So you’ll need clothes." She started digging through the sizes.

He fell silent.

Grace looked up at him and caught the dark, angry look on his face. "What?"

"What?" he shot back.

"Never mind. Let’s see which of these fit best." Grabbing several sizes, she handed the pants over to him. One would think she’d handed him a load of dog crap the way he reacted to the jeans.

Disregarding his appalled look, she had to practically shove him into a fitting room and close the partial door sharply behind him.

Julian entered the small cubicle and froze, assaulted simultaneously on three hostile fronts.

The first was the smallness of the space and the cold, fierce terror that washed over him from it. For a full minute, he couldn’t breathe as he fought the urge to run from the tight, cramped space. He could barely move without bumping into the walls, door, or mirror.

But even worse than his claustrophobia was the face in the mirror. He hadn’t seen his own reflection in centuries. And the face staring back at him looked so much like his father that he wanted to splinter it. He saw the same smoothly sculpted planes, the same contemptuous eyes.

The only thing missing was the deep, jagged scar that had run down his father’s left cheek.

And for the first time in countless centuries, Julian saw the jarring sight of the three thin commander’s braids that hung to his shoulder.

His hand shaking, he reached up and touched them as he did something he hadn’t done in an exceptionally long time; he remembered the day he had earned them.

It had been after the battle at Thebes when his commander had fallen and the Macedonian troops had started to panic and retreat. He had grabbed the commander’s sword, regrouped them, and led them to victory against the Romans.

The day after the battle, the Macedonian queen herself had braided his hair, and placed her own personal beads on the ends.

Julian gripped the tiny glass beads in his fist.

Those braids had belonged to the once proud and mighty Macedonian commander who had led a conquering army so strong that he had forced the Romans to flee in cowering terror.

The sight haunted him.

He looked down at the ring on his right hand. A ring he had worn for so long that he had grown immune to its presence, and had long ago ceased to remember its significance.

But his braids…

He hadn’t thought about them in a long, long time.

Touching them now, he remembered the man he’d been. He remembered the faces of his family. The people who had once rushed to serve his needs. Those who had respected and feared him.

A time when he had commanded his destiny, and the known world had been his for the taking.

And now he was…

His throat tight, Julian closed his eyes and removed the beads from the ends of his hair before he started unbraiding it.

As his fingers loosened the first braid, he looked down at the pants he had dropped on the floor.

Why was Grace doing this? Why did she have to treat him like a human being?

He’d grown so accustomed to being treated as an object that he found her kindness toward him unbearable. The other summoners’ cold, impersonal distance had enabled him to tolerate his sentence, to not remember who and what he’d once been.

What he’d lost.

It enabled him to only focus on the here and now, and on the momentary, fleeting pleasures to be had.

But human beings didn’t live that way. They had families, friends, futures, dreams.

Hopes.

Things that had been lost to him centuries ago. Things he would never know again.

"Damn you, Priapus," he breathed as he viciously uncoiled the last braid. "And damn me."

Grace did a double-take as Julian finally left the dressing room wearing a pair of jeans that looked as if they had been made solely for him.

The tight tank top Selena had loaned him stopped just below his hard, narrow waist and the jeans rode low on his lean hips, leaving just a tiny peek of his hard, flat stomach and the small coffee-colored hairs that ran from his navel downward to disappear under the denim.

Grace had a strong desire to walk up to him and slide her hand down that inviting pathway and investigate where it led. And all too well, she remembered the sight of him standing nak*d in front of her.

Drawing her breath in sharply between her teeth, she had to admit he looked good in jeans. Even better than he’d looked in shorts-if such a thing were possible.

Sunshine was right, he had the best butt denim had ever cupped and all she could think of doing was running her hand over that rump and squeezing it tight.

The female salesclerk and woman beside her stopped talking and gaped.

"Are these acceptable?" Julian asked Grace.

"Oh, yeah, baby," Grace said breathlessly before she could stop herself.

Julian gave her an amused grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Grace moved around him until she could see what size the pants were.

Oh, yeah, nice, nice butt!

Distracted by his shapely posterior, she inadvertently let her fingers brush against the skin of his back as she touched the tag. She felt Julian tense.

"You know," Julian said, looking at her over his shoulder. "That would feel a whole lot better if we were both nak*d. And in your bed."

She heard the sharp intakes of breath from the salesclerk and customer.

Heat exploding over her face, Grace straightened up and glared at him. "We really need to talk about what kind of comments are appropriate when we’re in public."

"If you took me home, you wouldn’t have to worry about it."

The man was relentless.

Shaking her head at him, Grace found two more pairs of jeans, a few shirts, a belt, a pair of sunglasses, socks, shoes, and several pairs of large, ugly boxers. No man could look good in boxers, she decided. And the last thing she wanted was for Julian to be any more appealing.

She made him change into a navy crew-neck shirt, his jeans, and running shoes before they left the department.

"Now you look almost human," she said teasingly as he came out of the dressing room.

He gave her a cold, dead look. "Only on the outside," he said in a voice so low she wasn’t sure she heard it.

"What was that?" she asked.

"I’m only human on the outside," he said louder.

She caught the anguish in his gaze. Her heart lurched.

"Julian," she said, her tone chiding. "You are human."

He pressed his lips together, his gaze now shadowed and guarded. "Am I? Is it human to live for two thousand years? To only be allowed to walk the earth a few weeks at a time?"

He looked around them at the women who were trying to sneak a peek at him over and around racks. Women who came to a complete stop as they caught their first glimpse of him.

He swept his hand out, indicating the spectacle around them. "Do you see them doing that to anyone else?"

His face turned hard, dangerous, as his gaze delved into hers. "No, Grace, I’ve never been human."

Needing to comfort him, she reached up and placed her hand gently against his cheek. "You are human, Julian."

The doubt in his eyes wrung her heart.

Unsure of what she could say or do to make him feel better, she let the matter drop and started for the door. She was almost to it before she realized Julian wasn’t with her.

Turning around, Grace spotted him easily enough. He’d gotten sidetracked in women’s lingerie and stood next to a rack of extremely skimpy black negligees. Grace’s face flamed. She swore she could hear the lecherous thoughts in his mind.

Worse, she had better go get him before one of the women offered to model it for him.

She quickly went up to him and cleared her throat. "You ready?"

He gave her a slow, thorough once-over that let her know he had a vivid image in his mind of her wearing that gauzy thing. "You would be breathtaking in this."

Grace looked at it skeptically. The thing was so flimsy it was pretty much-transparent. Unlike Julian, she didn’t have a body that turned anyone’s head, not unless they were extremely desperate. Or had been in prison for a couple of decades. "I don’t know about breathtaking, but I’d definitely be cold."

"Not for long, you wouldn’t."

She sucked her breath in at his words, not doubting the truth of it for a minute. "You are so bad."

"Not in bed, I’m not." He dipped his head toward hers. "I’m actually very-"

"There you are!"

Grace jumped back at Selena’s voice.

Julian said something to Selena in a strange language Grace didn’t understand.

"Now, now," Selena said with a chiding note in her voice. "Gracie doesn’t understand ancient Greek. She slept through the entire semester."

Selena looked at Grace and clucked her tongue. "See, I told you one day it would come in handy."

"Oh, yeah," Grace said with a laugh. "Like I knew back then that one day you were going to conjure up a Greek love-sl…" Grace let her voice trail off as she realized what she’d almost said in front of Julian.

Embarrassed, she bit her lip.

"It’s all right, Grace," Julian said quietly.

Still, she knew it bothered him. There was no way it couldn’t.

"I know what I am. You can’t offend me with the truth of it. I’m actually more offended by the word Greek than I am love-slave. I was trained in Sparta, and fought for the Macedonians. I made it my habit to avoid Greece as much as possible before I was cursed."

Grace cocked her head at what he’d said, or more to the point what he hadn’t said. There was nothing about his childhood.

"Where were you born?" she asked.

A tic started in his jaw and his eyes darkened ominously. Wherever his birthplace had been, he didn’t care for it. "Very well, I’m half Greek, but I don’t claim that half of my heritage."

Okay, big nerve there. From now on, she would drop Greek from her vocabulary.

"Back to the black nightie," Selena said. "There’s a red one over here that I’m thinking would look a whole lot better on her."

"Selena!" Grace snapped.

She ignored her, and led Julian to where the red negligees were kept. Selena picked up a sheer red baby-doll number that was split down the front and only held together by two ribbons at the shoulders and one in the middle. Crotchless red panties and a lace garter belt completed the ensemble.

"What do you think?" Selena asked as she held it up in front of Julian.

He gave Grace a speculative glance.

If they kept this up, she was going to die of embarrassment. "Would you two stop?" Grace asked. "I’m not wearing that."

"I’m buying it for you anyway," Selena said in a firm voice. "I’m relatively sure Julian can get you into it."

Julian gave her a droll stare. "I’d rather get her out of it."

Grace covered her face with her hands and groaned.

"She’ll come around," Selena said conspiratorially.

"I will not," Grace said from behind her hands.

"Yes, you will," Julian said, as Selena went off to pay for the red negligee.

There was such arrogance and assuredness in his words. She could tell the man wasn’t used to anyone defying him.

"Have you ever failed?" she asked.

The teasing in his eyes faded and she saw the veil come down over his face. He was hiding something with that look, she knew it. Something very painful, judging by the sudden tenseness of his body.

He didn’t say another word until Selena returned and handed him the bag. "Now," she said. "I’m thinking some candlelight, nice mood music, and-"

"Selena," Grace said, cutting her off. "I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but instead of focusing on me for a minute, can we talk about Julian?"

Selena glanced at him. "Sure. What about him?"

"Do you know how to get him out of the book? Permanently?"

"Absolutely clueless." Selena turned her attention to Julian. "Do you know?"

"I keep telling her, it’s impossible."

Selena nodded. "She is stubborn. Never listens to a word said unless it’s the word she wants to hear."