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Chapter 13

I TRIED TO WATCH ALL OF HIM AS HE WALKED TOWARD ME, BUT FINALLY gave up and stared. The tentacles were the same gleaming white as the rest of him. There was the faintest marbling effect in the thickest tentacles, and I knew from Bhatar that those were the muscular arms, the tentacles that did the heavy work. There were longer, thinner tentacles in groupings around the ribs and upper stomach. They were the fingers, but a hundred times more sensitive than a sidhe's. Then just above the belly button was a fringe of shorter tentacles with slightly darker tips. That he had those made me wonder even more if what lay in his pants was sidhe, or not.

I sat on the bed and stared until he was standing in front of me. He kept his face turned away, hands elapsed behind his back, as if he didn't want to see or touch me. I reached out and touched one of those smooth muscular tentacles. It jerked away at my touch. I stroked it, and I felt Sholto's gaze before I looked up to meet it.

I stroked the outer skin of the tentacle again. "These are for hard work, lifting, capturing prey, or prisoners." I traced my finger on the underside of the tentacle, feeling the slightly different texture. It wasn't unpleasant, but it was thicker than human skin, almost rubbery, like the skin on a dolphin.

"I suppose Bhatar told you that." His voice was angry.

"Yes." I grabbed the base of the tentacle where it melded into his body. I pulled gently but

firmly down the length of it. It wrapped around my hand, holding it, moving it away from him.

"Don't," he said.

"It felt good didn't it?" I asked.

He looked at me, so angry, so scared. "How do you know what feels good to a nightflyer?"

"I asked."

He looked startled then, and I was able to pull my hand free of him.

I touched one of the groupings of thinner tentacles. They retracted like sea fans when a diver brushes them below a coral sea. "Bhatar could do the most intricate needlework with his fingers."

I moved my hand lower, not quite touching the last visible line of tentacles. "These are very sensitive-they can be used for the finest tactile work, but they're actually a secondary sexual organ."

He looked startled. "We do not usually share that bit of information with outsiders."

"I know." I smiled. "Bhatar used to caress visiting ladies with them. They were often afraid to tell him to go away for fear of offending him, and offending my father. I noticed when I finally went back to court that the Host often caressed nonsluagh with the lower tentacles. It's a sort of in-joke that you all have on us. You touch us with what amounts to a breast, and we're none the wiser."

"But you know," he said.

"I like a good in-joke when I'm not the butt of it." I ran my hand in a long movement over that last line of organs.

His breath went out in a sigh. His eyes stayed defiant, protective. I didn't even blame him for it. I had enough mixed genetics in my own ancestors that there but for the grace of Deity go I.

I touched them gently, and they began to weave around my fingers. The ends were slightly prehensile, not nearly as much so as the upper ones, but there was a slight depression on one side of each of the tentacles. I stroked a finger into one of the depressions; it made him shudder.

"I take it that has a specific job if you're with a female nightflyer?"

He nodded, wordlessly.

"What can they do for me?" I asked the question for several reasons. First, I was curious. Second, I had to know if I could stand for him to touch me intimately with them. I was touching him in almost a detached scientific way. You do x, and y happens. Detachment might allow me to touch him, but it wouldn't get me through sex.

He reached down with his hands, but that put the thicker tentacles in a mass against my face. It made me jerk back. Sholto instantly straightened. Maybe he would have stepped away again, but I grabbed a handful of the lower tentacles. It froze him in place, and his breath caught in his throat. The reaction reminded me of what happens when you touch a man's penis when he's not expecting it.

He reached down with his hands and jerked my shirt out of my pants. The movement put the thick muscular limbs against my face. This time I didn't pull away, but it was an effort.

He pulled the shirt over my head, and let it drop to the floor. The defiance was tinged with something else, something darker and more real. He used two of the muscular tentacles to gently move my hands away from the lower organs. Then the long thin tentacles grew, stretching longer and thinner, like muscular clay. The tips caressed the mounds of my breasts in quick teasing movements. It made me both startle and gasp.

The tips plunged inside my bra, and it was like a snake crawling against my skin. I was about to tell him, no, I couldn't do it, when those reddened tips found my nipples and I discovered what the depressions on the underside were for. They had suction, and the touch was expert. My nipples hardened under the sucking, squeezing sensation.

A second organ played low on my belly, tickling along the top of my pants. He asked without asking. I pushed him gently away. "Enough, please."

He pulled away from me, but this time he wasn't hurt. The look on his face was almost, not quite, but almost triumphant. "The look on your face just now, that alone is worth much to

me. "

I took a shaking breath and tried to think. "Glad to hear it, but there's one more thing I have to check before I know for sure. "

He looked at me.

"Lose the belt, please," I said.

I didn't have to ask twice. He took the belt out, but left the pants buttoned. I liked that he had done exactly what I asked, no more, no less.

I undid the pants, exposing the line of his briefs. The bulge in them was straight and firm, and looked very... human. But after what I'd just seen, I had to be sure. I pulled the underwear carefully over that bulge, and saw him nude for the first time.

He was as straight and perfect as his face had promised, like a carved alabaster sculpture. I wrapped my hand around him, and he cried out.

I wasn't teasing, I was looking for something. Bhatar had had a spine inside his penis nearly as long as my hand. Something no human woman would survive. Only the royals of their kind had it, and it meant they were fertile males-without the spine the females didn't ovulate during sex.

Sholto watched me, eyes eager. "A man's control is only so good. "

"That's why my pants are staying on. " He was like thick muscled velvet in my hands, but there was nothing there but flesh, no nasty surprises. "Your father wasn't royal?"

"You're looking for the spine. " His voice was low, hoarse.

"Yes."

"My father was not one of the royal drones." He whispered those reasonable words in a voice that was growing less reasonable after every touch.

"Then how did you get to be king?" My voice was calm. I hadn't stayed excited once the tentacles stopped touching me. It hadn't lasted, because I wasn't aroused by the sight of him. Lord and Lady forgive me, but I saw the extras as a deformity.

"King of the sluagh is not an inherited title. It is earned."

"Earned, " I said. "How earned?"

He shook his head. "I am having trouble thinking."

"I wonder why that is." I made it teasing, but I didn't mean it. I wished I did. I could have taken him a piece at a time. Maybe if he'd had just one or two tentacles, but he had over a dozen. The thought of pressing my naked body against him, of being embraced by the nest of tentacles... The thought made me shudder.

Sholto mistook my reaction, and one of the muscular tentacles brushed my hair like another man would use his hand. I closed my eyes, raised my face to the touch, tried to enjoy the caress, but I couldn't. For a night, maybe, but not night after night. I just couldn't.

I lowered my face, and the tentacle moved away. I held him in my hand as solid and lovely as any man I'd been with, and because of what lay writhing just above, I couldn't take the pleasure in it that I should have.

Sholto was watching me expectantly, as if I'd already said yes. The logical thing would have been to stand up, kiss him, and bow out, but if I kissed him the mass of tentacles would wrap around me and Sholto would know how I truly felt. I didn't want him to see me pull away in horror. I wanted perhaps his last touch of sidhe flesh to be something pleasant, not humiliating. If I couldn't stand to go higher up his body, well, there was only one way to go: lower.

I slid off the bed, to my knees in front of him. The movement forced him to take a step back from the bed, and put my face even with that length of solid silken flesh. He drew breath to say something, but I stopped his words by taking him into my mouth. I ran my hands up the backs of his thighs to cup his buttocks, digging my fingernails into his flesh.

He cried out, his body thrusting a little to meet my mouth. Normally I liked to watch up the line of a man's body to see his reaction, but not this time. I didn't want to see. I fed at him, sucking him, using tongue, mouth, lips, and gently, teeth.

His breathing took on that quick, panting rhythm that said I would have to stop soon or break the queen's taboo. The power, too, was back, like a solid hum of energy against my body, and where I touched him, the energy thrummed; inside my mouth it was as if he vibrated, and I had a sudden vision of what it might feel like to have this warm, power-filled thing between my legs. The image was so strong, I had to pull away. I opened my eyes and found his skin white, nearly translucent with power.

I looked up slowly, and every inch of him was a shimmering, glowing thing. The ends of the smaller tentacles glowed like red embers, and the higher tentacles showed a play of marbled color like colored lightning under the skin. The play of soft red, softer violet, bands of gold like the color of his eyes pulsing against the white-white light of his skin was beautiful.

I stared up at him, and in that moment all I could see was beauty. He was as he was meant to be, a thing carved from light, filled with color and magic. That power rose off of him in a skin-caressing, body-vibrating roll, embracing me like some invisible, living silken blanket. I wanted to step into it, to feel it enfold me.

"Undo your hair." My voice sounded strange, like someone else was speaking.

Sholto undid the clasp of his hair, and shook it out around his body. The hair fell past his knees in a glittering fall like new snow. I grabbed two handfuls of it and pulled gently. It had been so long since I'd had hair that could cascade over my body like this. It was like holding heavy living satin. I pushed the cups of my bra down so that my breasts spilled out and I could brush his hair across them. That one touch made me shudder, and this time it was passion.

I looked up at him, still on my knees. "Do you think we could behave ourselves if you ran all this lovely hair over my nude body?"

Each color in his irises was glowing; the rings seemed almost to be whirling like the eye of a storm. The heat in his face changed to laughter. "Shall I lie and say yes?"

I raised a hand gone shining, nearly translucent, to stroke along his body. "Yes, lie to me, if it will keep us from stopping."

"Dangerous talk," he said, softly.

"Dangerous times," I said, and licked him, making his body react from legs to shoulders, head going back, breath coming in a shuddering sigh.

"Meredith," he said in that tone that a man saves for only the most intimate of occasions. The sound of it made my body tighten in places he hadn't seen, let alone touched.

The door burst open with a crack of tearing wood and a roil of power that slammed into us like a giant hand. Sholto staggered but stayed on his feet; I ended on my butt on the floor, peering around his legs. I had an image of a dark figure moving in a blur, then Sholto was gone, over the bed and onto the floor beyond.

Nerys the Grey stood framed in the doorway for a heartbeat, then she was moving like a blur of mist toward me. I went for the bed and the gun under the pillow, and knew I'd never make it in time.



Chapter 12 | A Kiss of Shadows | Chapter 14



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