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CHAPTER 19

Mirin tried to hold back her tears.

"Dearest, my beauty, you mustn't weep," Lucian murmured in her ear. His hands kneaded her shoulders as he brushed his lips down her neck and pressed his body more tightly against her back. "There is no greater intimacy, no more intense pleasure." he whispered, and his breath was hot and his hands were hot, and she felt herself leaning back into him, reaching for his hands.

"No, no, my love, you must concentrate now."

She didn't want to concentrate; it hurt too much.

"I can't," she cried and tried to pull away.

He dug his fingers into her flesh, and it hurt, too.

"Oh, but you can, my Chosen, you can."

She couldn't. She'd tried. Again and again she'd done just what he told her. There was no pleasure, only pain.

Her head fell forward and she sobbed aloud. "I can't, Lucian." She covered her face with her hands.

He released her shoulders and curled around her and lifted her chin and took her in his arms and covered her face with kisses. "Mirin, you are Chosen," he said. "But you have had no training, no practice. You have no control." His green eyes glowed. "The moment you touch a mind, you are overcome, dearest. It will take time to control that first rush of emotion, the thrill of possessing another's thoughts."

She sighed; her shoulders rose and fell. "All right, Lucian," she whispered, "I will try again."

Lucian rubbed his hands together and smiled. He nodded and stepped back.

Mirin put her hands to her forehead, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

"Slowly, deeply, dearest," Lucian crooned.

She let the breath out.

"Again."

She drew in another breath.

"That's it, my love, slow, deep."

She let it out.

"Yes, yes." His voice was husky.

Mirin opened her eyes, and she could not close them again, she simply could not. She ran to him and threw herself into his arms.

He pulled her close, so close, and his hands began their work and his lips bruised her, and she felt weak and sick and desperate; she thought she might faint. He began to lower her to the stone floor. "Yes, yes, Lucian."

He stopped. The slender arms gracefully, swiftly, pulled her to her feet. "No, dearest, not now." He bared his teeth and smiled.

She swayed on her feet, but he held her tight.

"We have work to do, my love." His smile grew wider as he shook his finger in her face. "You are not applying yourself," he said. "You must, you know."

Mirin stared into his eyes. No longer brilliant with desire, they were hard, cold. She gasped and tried to pull away.

"You are disappointing me, dearest." His long fingers encircled her arms. "You obviously have not paid attention." Still, he smiled. "How will you ever learn to use your gifts if you don't? Now watch, and learn." He released her. "And witness the power of the Chosen."

The grin faded. The eyelids lowered over the green eyes. Lucian cocked his head.

She watched him and she seethed with her hands curled into fists, the nails cutting into her palms. What need had she to see him demonstrate his power yet again? She'd seen it a hundred times; for him, it was as effortless as breathing.

With a thought, he could get whatever he wanted. A priest would break his vows, a temple would be desecrated, a farmer would destroy his own crops. With a thought, he could turn a man into a beast.

Because of his power, they lacked for nothing here in their hole in the ground. The best food, elegant clothing, fabulous treasure, were left before the secret entrance to the tomb like offerings to some ancient god. It was nothing to Lucian, to use a mind to bring him what he wanted, who could corrupt an honest man into a thief, who could convert a virtuous woman into a whore, who could transform a freeman into his obedient slave. His power provided them with everything. With a thought.

He was smiling now, softly, his fingers dancing lightly against his sides. He began to sway; it was as if he heard music she could not. His smile lit up his face, and Mirin could imagine the eyes glittering beneath the lids.

Suddenly, his brow furrowed, and his body went rigid. The smile had been neatly wiped away. His eyes flew open, and Mirin gasped. They were blank, flat. His mouth parted. Words came out.

"You think to defy me?" His voice was as blank and flat as his eyes, empty, devoid of the elegant lilt, the courtly grace. The frown deepened; he narrowed his eyes. Then, as abruptly as it had vanished, the smile returned and his body relaxed and the life came back to his eyes.

Laughing, he bent at the waist before her in a formal bow and caught up her hand and kissed it. He raised his eyes. They sparkled.

She turned her face away.

"Come now, dearest, let me look upon your beauty," he said in his silky voice as he turned her hand and kissed the palm.

She wouldn't give in to him this time. She wouldn't! As his lips, so soft, so warm, made their way slowly up her arm, she trembled. She would not. She bit her lip and shuddered.

"You will learn, dearest, you will," he whispered, "and then you will know true pleasure. Ah, yes, even greater than this."

She wouldn't! "It didn't look like all was pleasure this time, Lucian."

His lips no longer moved upon her arm. "He dared to defy me," he said in a tight voice, then laughed. "For a moment."

"Who did, Lucian, one of your slaves?"

"Yes, dearest, one of my slaves. Would you believe a mere peasant, a pathetic, common man, tried to resist the compulsion I had planted in his mind?" Lucian chuckled.

Mirin turned to him. "And what did you do?"

"Why, I simply made him feel that he wanted nothing more in the world than to fall to his knees and make obeisance to his master, Lucian."

She raised her brows. "He knows your name? I thought you said no one must know of your existence until you are ready."

Laughing, he pulled her into his arms and patted her on the back like he would a child. "Really, my love, I see that you have forgotten what you've learned." His hands were no longer innocent. "I must teach you again."

What did he teach her? Not to use his power. His power. She feared it. She desired it. She trembled at it. She lusted for it. As Lucian parted her gown, as she drew in a quick breath, she closed her eyes. Someday, she, too, would wield this power and when she did, it would be he who would cry and he who would quiver and he who ached.