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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Sarah shivered in spite of herself as she watched the Enforcer cross into the playing field, seemingly oblivious of the stir of emotions he was creating all around him. If she were going to be honest, she would have to admit that when she put fear and prejudice aside, she was still left intimidated by his prowess alone. Had he been a simple warrior, he would surely have made a glorious name for himself in battle, as well as prize competitions like this one. But his battles were fought against his own people.
He was the one true villain in the picture laid before her. The villain condoned by the King.
His name was Ariel, far too angelic a name for one who even looked the villainous part. He was bearded and mustached, though both were trimmed close with an almost single-minded perfection. Rough dark brows slashed above his eyes, and his hair was barely long enough to make the queue it was tied into at his nape. His hair was dark as pitch, but the sleek, silky shine of it was fastidious, showing off an almost navy tint of highlights in the too-bright moonlight.
Just then, thick, sooty lashes parted and revealed the icy blue eyes that so easily terrified everyone who faced off with the Enforcer. They were as glass, frigid and sparkling like shaved ice.
And they were looking directly at Sarah.
The Princess felt another chill blow over her, shuddering down her skin until she was covered in goose bumps. Her childish behaviors were forgotten in an instant and she straightened imperiously into the figure of a woman of her station. She could not tell clearly if that was a smile he was taunting her with, his whiskers in the way, but there was cold amusement in his eyes.
He boldly advanced to the stairs leading up to her viewing box, oblivious of the startled scramble of powerful Demons making haste to create a path for him, as well as adding a few steps more to ensure safe distance. Princess Sarah was afraid, too, her heartbeat wild and her palms becoming damp with it. But she clutched her moist hands around the arms of her throne and forced herself to smile at him, just to prove to him he couldn't intimidate her, even though she had never been as close to him before as she was apparently going to be in just another minute….
At first, all she could hear was the low, steady thrum of a heartbeat.
She lifted her cheek, felt the coolness that crossed it as she left a pillow of perfect warmth. The heartbeat became distant as she raised her head farther and blinked her eyes for clarity.
The next thing she was aware of was that haunting, sense-numbing smell. Every single time she closed her eyes it was there. The scent had temperature, if it was possible. Heated, but not overtly so. It was mellow on some levels, like gentle musk and flirting masculinity. On other echelons it was headier. Rich and smoky.
Yes, that was it.
Smoke. Softly burnt cedar, smoldering maple, and the sweet tang of apple wood.
It was his scent.
It was the same scent that had wrapped around her time after insane time for endless months. It haunted her constantly, sometimes in frustrating, imposing ways, and other times in a darkly passionate manner that made her crawl with frustration within her own skin.
He didn't like it when she moved away from him, and it always showed in the possessive sweep of his hands as they threaded into the straight fall of her hair. She knew by instinct alone that her hair fascinated him. He was always touching it, holding her prisoner by it, drawing it to the rub of his lips.
She was too tired to battle him. After six months of this blissful, exasperating torture at his persistent hands and stubborn nature, she had become too addicted to the way he could eventually bend her to his pleasure and her own. Before he had come, she had prided herself for her control of her own body. Gymnastics, martial arts, and marathon runs were her measuring stick, all of which she had excelled in at one point or another in her lifetime.
But it all went to hell in a speedy little handbasket the moment his fingertips touched her skin and his breath whispered against her ear. He spoke, she knew, but speech was wiped away into unintelligible whispers and hot clouds of increasingly excited breath.
She didn't mind so much, though. She couldn't see the features of his face, so she could tell herself that it was purely imagination and therefore safe to indulge in.
Then she would remember that her imagination had been fixated on this mysterious man as well as his alluring scent and feel without fail, every single time, and she would feel the quickening of her heart as she acknowledged on a very distant level that this was all more than just a dream. This was the thought that always panicked her into struggling with him, trying to fight him even though she knew how futile it was. He never had to force her to his will; he could do it well enough with the sweet skill of his touch alone, with the sweeping seal of his lips and mouth as he slowly devoured her resistance along with her kisses.
Kestra ripped out of sleep with a growl of annoyance, forcing herself awake just so she could make the audible sound of protest and denial. She lay in the dampness of sheets misted with perspiration, breathing hard and feeling her chest ache with the violent pounding of her heart. She pressed a palm to her rib cage.
"Damn you!" she cursed up to the ceiling, though she was unsure if she was cursing the dream man, God, or herself. No matter who it was, they were playing massive head games with her when she was asleep and at her most vulnerable. It was exhausting her, wreaking havoc with her concentration, strength, and equilibrium, all of which were her primary tools in her work. When James started noticing she was off her stride, then she truly knew she was in trouble. She needed sleep, but sleep brought him. When she tried to stay awake, she always failed miserably, falling irresistibly into unconsciousness and subsequently his unending thrall over her.
Kestra slid out of bed, walking her hot, damp body through the cold room. She paced in her thin, plaid boxers, rolled at the waist to better fit her trim hips, and white ribbed tank top, trying to shake off the kinetic restlessness these dreams always left behind.
She needed to get laid.
That was the only thing she could come up with at this point. It had to be the reason why she indulged in these highly erotic fantasies in her sleep, only to wake up more unsatisfied than ever. James would have laughed at the idea of her latest solution. He knew her well enough to know that blowing things up was her best form of release, not sex. But she'd just torched an entire dock of warehouses that previous night, and yet here she was again, dreaming the dreams of the deeply, deeply sexually deficient.
"I can't take this anymore," she muttered to the cold, empty room. "Something has got to change, and it better damn well do it soon!"
"Kane, you're supposed to be making yourself scarce," Corrine called from a distant upstairs bedroom.
"What does it matter where I am?" Kane asked stubbornly, switching instantly from voice to thought as he pressed his point. I am always with you anyway. I see what you see and feel what you feel.
"You're also a Demon of the Mind, more capable than others of distancing yourself from this Imprinted link of ours." She stopped shouting when she appeared at the head of the stairs, looking down at him where he leaned back against the enormous banister, arms folded firmly over his athletic chest. "We've discussed this as much as I'm going to discuss it. Noah will be here very soon and I want you long gone by the time he arrives."
"Noah isn't himself," Kane countered, "and I'm not at all happy with the way he treated you the last time he was here. I don't think I've ever felt you that angry before."
"That's because," she said as she began her descent, "the subject has been a sore spot for me for a very long time now. It wasn't the way I'd have approached it with him had I been prepared. Coming out of the blue like that, it pinched my temper before I could prepare a more diplomatic approach." She reached the bottom of the stairs, releasing the excess material of the caftan she wore so loosely before leaning her warmth into him comfortingly. "The end result is satisfactory enough. I finally have the opportunity I've waited for since this power of mine first came to light. Don't you see, Kane? Once I do this for Noah, once I find the female Druid who is destined to be his, others will finally come willingly to my door."
"And I know how important that is to you," Kane agreed softly, reaching up to cradle his wife's face between gentle, reverent fingers.
"So very important," she said with quiet vehemence. "I've been little better than useless to your people these past three years. I've just as much destiny awaiting me as any of you do, and I've longed to fulfill it."
"I know," he murmured, leaning to touch his mouth to hers. "I know how frustrating it's been for you. But won't you at least let me-"
"No, Kane. Please," she begged as she reached to brush back the errant curl of hair that fell crookedly over his forehead. "Respect my wishes in this."
"You know," he sighed, closing his eyes as she added a kiss to her coaxing plea and touch, "I'm powerless when it comes to you."
"It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with giving your respect to Noah's need for privacy and maintenance of pride. If the tables were turned, knowing the process I must go through with him to find his mate, would you want an audience? Would you want someone watching as you revealed the parts of yourself that feel the way you do for me?"
"I've never made a secret of my love or need for you, Corrine."
"But imagine, for a moment, if you had to show the world the loss of control, the pure drive of lust that first led you to try and capture me, even in spite of the law and the fact that your own brother would be forced to punish you should you get caught?" Corrine brushed soft lips and a softer whisper over his ear. "Remember that feeling, Kane, that you felt the moment Jacob did catch you? The shame attached to hunting down an innocent human while under the influence of the full Hallowed moon? Remember what you felt before you learned that it was okay for you to love me?"
"Sometimes," he sighed quietly, "I forget what life was like without you." He smiled against her lips as she tried to heal that injuring thought with her lush little mouth. "But I'll never be able to leave you if you keep kissing me."
"Mmm," she agreed, her lips rubbing enticingly over his.
The pressure of Kane's mouth suddenly disappeared, along with the support of the rest of his body, leaving her to stumble against the banister he had vacated as she waved frantically at the sulfuric cloud of smoke his sudden teleportation had left behind. She coughed just as a second cloud of smoke skidded into the foyer from beneath and around the cracks of the front door.
This cloud coalesced with a sharp twist into first a column, then the tall, sturdy figure of the Demon King. Corrine instantly hid her waving hands behind her back, smiling at Noah with hopes he would be a little too preoccupied to realize her husband had sensed his arrival with barely enough time to retreat.
"Good evening, Noah."
"Good evening, Corrine. Did you rest well?"
"Very well. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I may ever be," he assured her.
Corrine reached to take his hand and led him deeper into the house. She'd long ago set aside a room for this purpose, and though it had gotten very little use searching for Druids, she used it often in meditative practice. Noah followed with unusual silence and a forced serenity, but he couldn't help but admire the sanctum Corrine led him to.
It was draped in dark fabric, with no lights save the multitude of candles she had lit on every surface and in every corner. Each stick of light was settled on glass, filling the room with refracted prisms that changed and danced along every surface. The floor was covered with pillows, all shining with satin and velveteen colors.
The candles gave off a variety of scents, from simple to exotic, but he was also aware that small metal dishes of herbs had been set to smoke. They infused the room with a haze and a spiced scent as rich and pure as the Earth itself.
"Before we begin…"
He turned to look at her. "Yes?" he asked.
"You said you have dreamed of her."
"Is there anything specific you can remember that you think might help you to go back to her and what you already have sensed about her?" She smiled softly when he gave her a perplexed look. "You're not the first to dream of your mate, Noah. In my limited experiences so far, the people I'm questing for have always had a singular memory, a trigger that instantly brings them to that place beyond the waking state where they have met their soul mate. Simon, for instance, always heard music when he dreamed of Tirana. "Fortune, Empress of the World," to be exact. Not what I would call romantic, but that's not for me to judge."
"For what purpose must you know this?" the King asked, coldness lacing his tone.
"Noah, if you close yourself off on a simple detail like this, we won't make any progress. We'll just be wasting our time. Please," she said, softening her intent as she touched his arm and leaned closer to his personal warmth. "Trust me. I'll never reveal what happens here to anyone. Kane has even made remarkable effort to distance himself from me for this. You know we'd never dream of betraying you."
"No," he decided, "you would not. And I do know that. I meant no insult."
"Come on, I can tell there is something that makes you think of this woman."
"It will sound…"
"A little strange? Yes. I know. Three others before you have said that very same thing."
Noah laughed at that, shaking his head ruefully. "I should have known this would not be a bland experience. Very well." He cleared his throat and flicked stormy green-gray eyes up to meet her gaze. "Sugar," he said at last. "Spun sugar, to be exact."