Night Embrace (Page 19)

Night Embrace (Dark-Hunter #3)(19)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

While she was gone, he listened to her in the other room. He could hear the water running as she washed her face and brushed her teeth.

This felt so strange.

Memories drifted through his head. Memories of a life he’d purposely forgotten.

Memories of a man he’d buried.

He remembered countless nights when he had climbed into bed to wait for his wife as she readied herself for sleep. Nights when he had watched her brush her hair until it gleamed in the firelight and then braided it before she joined him.

Nights of listening to her hum while she sewed before the fire…

He gazed over to his dresser where Sunshine had placed a small cosmetics bag, a pink hairbrush, and a small bottle that probably contained her patchouli oil.

He stared at the dainty items that looked so out of place among his belongings. Items that were feminine and foreign, and that wrung his gut.

How he’d missed sharing his life with someone. Having someone to care for, someone who cared for him.

It was something he hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. Something he hadn’t dared think about.

Now that he thought about it, he had to admit life as a Dark-Hunter did have moments of profound loneliness.

Sunshine came out with her black hair still braided and her legs peeking out from the hem of the shirt. The smile on her face tugged at his warrior’s heart.

Centuries ago, he’d looked forward to battle, knowing that if he survived, he would return to the warm embrace of loving arms. The comfort of a friend.

As a Dark-Hunter the best he could hope for after battle was curling up to the computer or phone and sharing the fight with someone who lived hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

That had never bothered him before.

Tonight for some reason, it did.

"You okay?" she asked.

He nodded.

Sunshine wasn’t so sure of his answer. There was a haunted look to his face. "Have you changed your mind about me staying over?"

"No," he said quickly. "It’s just been a long night."

She nodded. "Tell me about it."

She climbed into his bed and pulled the black comforter over her body, then turned out the lamp by the bed.

Talon turned to look at her. She lay on her side, facing the wall. Her head looked small against his king-sized pillow and she looked so tiny and womanly against the blackness of his bed.

Most of all, she looked delectable.

He lay down beside her. Before he could stop himself, he pulled her into his arms, spooning up behind her.

"Mmm," she breathed sleepily. "I really like it when you do that."

Pain ripped through him as he closed his eyes and inhaled her unique scent. She felt so incredibly good in his arms.

Nae! his mind roared. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let himself care for her that way.

There could never be anything between them. Tomorrow he would have to let her go back to her life while he returned to his.

That was the way of things.

Kissing her gently on the back of her head, he sighed and forced himself to sleep. He could never have her; she could never be more than a passing whim for him.

Never.

Sunshine lay there for quite some time listening to Talon breathe. There were no words to convey exactly what she felt lying beside this man. It was as if they fit. As if they were meant to be together.

Why was that?

She wasn’t sure how long she lay there before sleep overtook her, but when she finally slept, she found herself having the strangest dream…

She saw Talon as a young man, probably no older than twenty. His long golden-blond hair was braided down his back while the two shorter, thinner braids dangled from his left temple. His youthful face was covered in a thick dark blond beard, but still she recognized him.

Recognized him as a young man who meant the entire world to her.

He held himself above her, his hard, masculine body nak*d and pressed against her own as he slid himself in and out of her with such tenderness that it made her heart soar and ache at the same time.

"Oh, precious Nyn," he breathed in her ear. He drove himself deep and hard into her, punctuating each word he spoke. "How can I leave you?"

She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him, then forced him back so that she could look into his amber eyes as he made love to her. "You’ve no choice, Speirr. You’ve fought too hard and suffered too much to be heir not to do this. This will ensure that the clan will take you as their king when your uncle dies."

She saw the anguish in his eyes and felt his body grow rigid around hers. "I know."

They loved each other so much. They always had. Ever since the day when she was six and he eight, and he had nobly saved her from a flogging by a rooster.

He had been the hero of her heart.

They’d grown up apart and yet never parted.

Even as children, they had known their friendship would be stopped or ridiculed, and Speirr had suffered enough ridicule to last ten thousand lifetimes.

She would never hurt him more.

So they had never told anyone of the times when they would sneak away from their famines and duties to be together.

For years their meetings had been innocent. Meeting to play a game or to fish. Sometimes to swim, or to share the heartbreaks they felt.

It had only been during this last year that they had dared touch each other’s bodies.

She was the daughter of a fishmonger-the lowest of the low. Even so, Speirr had never treated her as the others did. He never mentioned that she smelled of fish oil or wore clothes that were threadbare and patched.

He’d respected her and treasured her friendship as much as she treasured his.

She had given him her virginity gladly, knowing there could never be anything between them. Knowing the day would come when he would have to marry another.

And though it broke her heart, she knew she had no choice except to let him go now. He needed to marry another to erase the taint his mother had left with him. To prove to everyone that he was noble in blood as well as in spirit.

"You will make a fine husband, Speirr. She is lucky to have you."

"Don’t," he said, holding her tighter. "I don’t want to think of anyone else while I’m with you. Just hold me, Nyn. Let me pretend for one moment that I’m not my mother’s son. Let me pretend that there’s only you and I in the world and no one and nothing to ever separate us."

She clenched her eyes shut as pain assailed her.

How she wished it were true.

He pulled back to look down at her. He cupped her face tenderly. "You are the only warmth in my heart. The only sunshine my winter has ever known."

Oh, how she loved him like this. When he, the fierce, bold warrior-prince, dared to be the bard who lived in his heart. Only she knew this side of him. Only she had ever known he had the talent of a poet.

To the rest of the world he must always be fierce and strong. A fighter of unquestionable prowess and skill.

But it was his poet’s heart she loved best.

"And you are my fire," she breathed. "And if you don’t go off and meet with your uncle now, he’ll extinguish you."

He cursed as he pulled away from her.

She watched him dress and helped lace him back into his armor. He was a prince. Not just in title, but in bearing and form. There had never been a more noble man.

After she was dressed, he pulled her into his arms and gave her one last scorching kiss. "Meet me tonight?"

She looked away. "If you wish it, Speirr. I will do anything you ask, but I don’t think it will be fair to your new wife to meet you on your wedding night."

He flinched as if she’d slapped him. "You’re right, Nyn. Most of all, it wouldn’t be fair to you."

Sunshine moaned as she felt herself leaving Nynia and moving toward Speirr. They were still by the loch, only now it was him she felt. His emotions.

It was through his eyes she saw them.

Speirr was heartbroken as he watched Nynia step out of his embrace. The pain inside him was so intense that he feared it would cripple him.

He reached his hand out for her, knowing she was gone.

Lost.

Lost to him forever.

Just as his mother had been.

Just as his sisters and father were.

Gods, it was so unfair.

But then, life was never fair. Especially not to a man who had duties and responsibilities. A man who had to force respect for himself and his sister at the point of his sword.

His life had never been his own.

Turning away from her, he mounted his horse and rode to meet his aunt and uncle so that they could finalize the marriage between their clan and the Gaulish-Celt tribe that bordered them to the north.

This marriage would finally silence the tongues of the gossips and doomsayers who wanted someone else to be named heir.

Sunshine thrashed in her sleep as her dream shifted. She saw Talon later that day, standing between a beautiful woman in her early thirties and a man only a few years older. The woman had the same blond hair and blue eyes as Talon while the man was black haired and black eyed.

They stood in the middle of an old wood hall. The room was crowded with people who were strangers to the three of them. Everyone was dressed in fine plaids and wore gold jewelry.

Speirr’s uncle was dressed in black leather armor and his aunt in gold armor with a long, plaid skirt.

To the people gathered there, Talon looked strong and proud. Fierce and princely.

The Gauls’ whispered voices echoed in the room as they retold stories of his prowess in battle, told each other that he was the Morrigan’s favored warrior.

It was said the goddess herself walked beside him in battle and dared anyone to mar his beauty or dull his sword.

What no one knew was that Speirr was ready to bolt as he waited to meet his bride.

"I swear, lad, you’re as skittish as a colt," his aunt whispered with a laugh.

"You were too, Ora," his uncle teased her. "I remember your father threatened to tie you to his side if you didn’t stop fidgeting while our parents bound us together."

"Aye, but I was much younger than he is."

His aunt placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Speirr took a deep breath as a young woman was brought forward to stand before him.

"My daughter Deirdre," King Llewd said.

She was beautiful. That was Speirr’s first thought. With hair as golden fair as any he’d ever seen and blue eyes that were kind and gentle.

But she was no match for his Nynia. No other woman could ever come close to her.

Speirr stepped back instinctively.

His uncle pushed him forward.

Deirdre smiled invitingly. Her eyes warm and accepting.

He stepped back again.

This time, his aunt nudged him toward his bride. "What have you to say to her, lad?"

"I…" Speirr knew the words that would bind them together. He’d rehearsed them incessantly.

But now they lodged in his throat.

He couldn’t breathe.

He stepped back again, and again his aunt and uncle moved him forward, toward her and a destiny that seemed suddenly bleak. Cold.

"Speirr," his uncle said with a warning note in his voice. "Say the words."

Do it, or you will lose everything-

Do it, and I will lose the only thing.

In his mind, he saw the hurt in Nynia’s eyes. Saw the tears she’d tried to hide.

Speirr clenched his teeth, flexing his jaw with determination. "I willna do this." He whirled around and left the hall, hearing the shocked gasps as he made his way to the door and out into the village.

A few seconds later, his aunt and uncle came rushing out behind him. He was halfway to his horse when his uncle grabbed his arm and pulled him roughly to a stop.

"What is wrong with you?" he demanded.

"Speirr?" his aunt said in a gentler tone. "What is it?"

He looked back and forth between them, searching for the words to make them understand what was in his heart. "I willna marry her."

"Oh aye, you will," his uncle said sternly. His dark eyes snapped fire at him. "Now march yourself back in there and finish this."

"Nae," he said stubbornly. "I willna marry her while I love someone else."

"Who?" they asked in unison.

"Nynia."

They exchanged a deep frown.

"Who the blazes is Nynia?" his uncle asked.

"The fishmonger’s daughter?" his aunt said.

The two questions came at him at once. Until his aunt’s comment registered in his uncle’s mind.

"The fishmonger’s daughter?" he repeated.

His uncle moved to pop him on the back of his head, but Speirr caught his hand and glared at him. His days of being hit by his uncle were long over.

"Are you mad?" his uncle demanded, wrenching his arm free. "How do you even know her?"

Speirr tensed, expecting his uncle’s condemnation. No doubt they would finally banish him from their clan just as they had done his mother.

None of that mattered.

Nynia was the only person who had ever really accepted him.

He would not fail her by marrying someone else while she had to go back to the misery of her life.

He refused to grow old without her.

"I know you don’t understand and I know I should just go and marry the Gaul’s daughter, but I can’t." He looked at his aunt, hoping someone would understand his plight. "I love Nynia. I don’t want to live without her."