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CHAPTER 23

Lucian's hand trembled; he snatched it back. He mustn't wake her. No, though he ached to touch her, to be touched. She was sleeping at last. Too many times he'd awakened to her muffled sobs. There were dark circles underneath the exquisite amethyst eyes, and that could not, must not, be. His Chosen must be perfect.

He'd exhausted her with lessons. He'd exhausted her with love. And finally, she had fallen asleep, in his arms. So selfless he had been, so very, very careful, so very, very good.

Abruptly, Lucian turned away. He had to. He could not look upon her and know the perfect body that lay beneath the silken coverlet and not stroke it, taste it, possess it. She must rest! He could not look upon the flawless face, as white and smooth as marble, but warm and soft, so soft, at the red, red lips, parted and moist and full, at the classical arch of the golden brows, at the long, black lashes lying upon her rose-tinted cheeks. No, if he did he would entwine himself in her golden hair, immure himself in her. She must rest.

He shuddered. He turned and stalked across the chamber. He must think, think! Not of her. But he glanced back over his shoulder. Was his beauty losing weight? Was her face becoming drawn? And those dark circles! She must rest. She turned in her sleep. A long, lovely leg slid from beneath the covers. He drew in a quick breath. No! She must rest. She must sleep.

Insomnia did not trouble him. No, he simply willed himself to sleep, and he slept: he controlled his body as he controlled his mind. But she could not. Her mind was undisciplined, unfocused, untrained. It was why he had been able to speak with her, why she was here, why she would remain so.

Lucian smiled and sighed. She would never learn to use her power; he would see to that. There was no need. He had power enough. But he must go through the motions, instructing, encouraging, inspiring, for she, too, longed for the power, lusted for it. It was why she had come to him. It was why she stayed.

He looked upon her and he licked his lips and he shuddered. No, she had no need of the power. She had only to be beautiful, perfect, his. She had only to purr at his caress, moan at his bite, to tremble and whisper his name. To yield and to ache and to want and to give.

Lucian closed his eyes tightly and pressed his fists against them. He must think! He must get to work: he must plan; he must act. He shook his head wildly. Had he not waited a thousand years for this? He must be about his business. He must marshal his power. The power of the Chosen.

He could not remember a time when he had not wielded it, could not imagine life without it. From his infancy, he had been trained in its use, encouraged, challenged. But, oh, he had been spoiled. His own dear mother had treated him like a little prince; she had seen that everyone else did, too.

He smiled, but tears filled his eyes at the memories.

Oh, yes, he had been spoiled!

Yet he had been diligent, dedicated. He did not play with his power, indulging in the silly little tricks, toying with the mind games, the others did. He studied; he practiced; he labored. He excelled. He shone. Always he was busy, busy, busy: pushing himself, stretching his limits, experimenting. Often, he asked himself why. He had been so very bored.

Until his interest had been piqued.

It had happened quite by accident one day; he hadn't intended it at all. He'd allowed himself to daydream, to loosen his iron discipline, to blur his focus. Casually, frivolously, he sent out his thoughts, letting them fly and dance and swirl, without purpose, without aim. Hoping, praying, for something, someone, anything, anyone, to stimulate him. His thoughts knocked lightly on many doors, and some of them were open and some of them were closed. All were uninteresting.

Until he found himself at one that hadn't been opened, hadn't been closed. A mind that simply had no door. Thoughts lay naked before him, raw and free. He flailed about; he slipped and tripped and stumbled. He grabbed hold and held on. The mind was not Chosen!

So hesitant he had been, so awestruck. There was so much to explore, to experience, to delight in. And all just lying before him, waiting. For him. He plunged into the mind with an enthusiasm, a joy, he'd never known.

When he'd finally withdrawn, weary, spent, satiated with pleasure, he'd slept for a day. Even his mother had not been able to stir him. When he had awakened, he knew he must do it again.

He had never given any more thought to those who were not Chosen than he would a dog. Why would he? But soon they were his only thought. At first, he merely played the voyeur, peeking into minds, ferreting out secrets, stealing hidden thoughts. He could not stop.

Then he learned something more: that he could plant an idea in a mind, and it would grow, and it would bear fruit. They never knew it. They never suspected. Oh, the trouble he had caused. It had been harmless, silly. At first.

He didn't tell anyone. Not even his dear mother. It was his private passion, his solitary joy. Until it had occurred to him that his pleasure could serve a greater purpose, that his power held a greater meaning. And when it had, he had acted.

Now, he would again.

But not just yet.

He opened his eyes and gracefully, silently, crossed the chamber to Mirin. He knelt beside her and gently ran his hand over the silk, down her body, marveling at this beauty that could make him almost forget his hatred, his purpose.

She had rested long enough.