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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Cotton candy?" she clarified.
"Yes. That is the modern name for it."
"Okay," she said simply. "The taste of cotton candy it is."
"No. Not the taste. The scent." He sighed with frustration when she lifted a brow. "Have you never been close by while someone spun sugar? It is a scent in three dimensions. You smell the strands that fly away into the air, but you taste it, too, and you feel the sweet stickiness against your skin." Noah suddenly stopped his impassioned description, flushing uncharacteristically when he realized he had followed a tangent that was far more intimate and revealing than he would have wished to share under any other circumstances.
"I understand," Corrine said gently, taking his arm and leading him into the center of the room.
She kneeled down on one side of a large, curved dish with twigs and coal arranged within the center. She indicated that he should sit on the opposite side and he did so, settling into the comfort of the pillows. The haze of herbs and incense quickly cocooned the Demon King with a soothing influence.
"Light this," she instructed softly, touching the edge of the metal bowl with a single finger. She inhaled and exhaled deeply, closing her eyes as he performed the elementary task of concentrating on the bowl and letting the carefully arranged items within burst into flame.
Noah felt the energy in the room shift sharply, sweeping around him with soothing pressure, forcing him to relax further. For the Druid who was only rudimentarily familiar with her power, it was a massive accomplishment to manipulate the Fire Demon's energy without his permission. If she hadn't drawn him so suddenly into this focused, calming state, he might have had the knee-jerk reaction to resist.
Corrine had been practicing time and again for just such a moment. She'd felt weakness and powerlessness when she should have felt just the opposite upon meeting her Demon mate. She had spent the three years since then fighting tooth and nail to make up for that. She'd been her own best form of a Druidic occupational therapist, always pushing herself, always wanting and reaching for what she felt she'd been cheated out of early on by a cruel twist of fate.
Now she absently waved a hand at the door she had left open, sending it swinging shut with a muffled click. It would have astounded the King, had he been paying attention. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the soothing familiarity of the flame he'd created. He had always been able to find comfort in the heart of a flame. Corrine had known this. Everyone who had seen him sit for endless hours contemplating the eternal flames that burned in the fireplace of the Great Hall of his castle knew this.
"Let's begin," she said at last.
Kestra wasn't even aware she had fallen back to sleep until strong hands caught her around the waist and pulled her sharply forward against a wall of solid flesh. He reached for her hair, skimming his fingers through it as if he owned all rights to do so. She tried to see him, but there was nothing. He was there, but brushed into a swirl of colors just beyond definition. She reached up in spite of herself and tried to bring his features into dimension with the touch of her hand.
She gasped when she realized she could feel the shadow of coarse whiskers against her fingertips. The shocking realness of the sensation started her heart racing as she jerked her hand away. Lunging back against his entrapping hands, she might as well have not been moving at all.
"Tell me who you are…"
Kestra froze at the sound of his voice, deep and rich with an exotic accent, something from one of the oldest of European cultures. She had traveled through enough of them to know one when she heard one, although she couldn't place the precise origin of his inflections. She was aware of how much it seemed to suit him, the new detail falling perfectly into the mental construct that she'd been putting together slowly over the past six months.
Neither of them had ever spoken a complete word in all the months of these persistent, obsessive dreams, these ceaseless nightmares and the haunting captain who starred in them as he steered them. She felt terrified and fascinated all at once at the unexpected development.
The dimness cleared slightly and he drew her closer, as if she weren't resisting at all, his hands beneath her ribs and his fingers pressing more firmly into her skin as he counteracted her opposing strength.
"Why are you doing this?" she demanded as she struggled against the violent impulses desperately riding her, telling her to hurt him in order to escape the force of his will. It wouldn't be fair to harm him when he'd never been abusive with her. His most offensive act had been to make her succumb to the cravings of her own body, an act she had to admit was a reward as much as it was a torture. Still, she hated how easily he could sway and manipulate her.
"Because you refuse to leave me alone," he responded, tension strung like overtaut piano wire through his words, just as it was strung through the solid bundles of muscle he held her against.
"Let go of me and I will gladly leave you alone," she hissed through her teeth. "It's your only choice. I'd just as soon tap dance on nitroglycerin than tell you anything about me!"
He laughed. It was a perplexing, utterly galling chuckle that made her face flame with fury. She despised it when she wasn't taken seriously, laughed off as if she were some kind of joke.
"Tell me where you are," he growled under a quiet, intense breath. "I must find that sharp tongue or die trying."
Suddenly his fingers were sliding over her face. She jolted back, but no sooner had she jerked away than they danced over the sweep of her neck and spine, followed by the eerily close cascade of his hot breath. He had a way, a way only possible in dreams, of surrounding her like that. With sensation and unexpected contrasts. Contrasts that chased across her every nerve ending and dogged her resistance with single-minded sensual warfare.
"No…I won't let you do this to me again!"
"True," he said, his tone suddenly soft. His fingers stilled, his breath pooling into a heated cloud against the curve of her neck between her throat and shoulder. She felt vibration twanging through his entire body. It broadcast how much restraint he was using. Her memory of earlier, more unrestrained dreams filled in the blank information. "It does make it all the harder," he said at last.
Kestra swallowed noisily, turning her head aside as her eyes burned with inexplicable emotion. He had just voiced the very feelings and frustrations she'd expressed to herself earlier. Of course he would. He was a construct of her mind. Her waking thoughts were following her into her dream.
But hadn't she read somewhere, once, that the minute you realized you were dreaming, the dream lost its impact? That you tended to awaken shortly after? If so, why was she waiting around? Was she waiting for his accursed touch, so like magic and sparkling starlight as it played over her rigid, reluctant body? Was she wishing him into existence just so she could feel? Feel in ways she was so incapable of in her waking hours?
"No, Kikilia," he murmured softly against her brow. "This time, it can be different. Tell me who you are, and I can show you what you are capable of when you are awake. Tell me your name, and I will find you and end this mutual torture once and for all."
The request made her want to laugh in his face at first, but that was quickly followed by a prickling rush of chilling terror. There was not much in the world that frightened her, but his proposal struck that rare, eerie nerve of panic. It was so numbing that it took all her concentrated effort to utter the single word:
"She must tell you, Noah. Make her tell you," Corrine urged, her panting breath falling against his cheek as she whispered in his ear. "I have brought you as close as I can for now. You must make her tell you, Noah."
Kestra was aware of something changing in his intent and emotion. He was suddenly impatient, the feeling sweeping away all softness and coaxing sensuality.
"Why do you resist me so? Every night you fight until you are too weak to deny what you must acknowledge. It is a pain you do not need to suffer."
"If only I would be more feminine, soft, and compliant, perhaps? I'm no lady? Well, you're right. I don't behave myself, I don't talk softly, and I am not gracious. Six months of this manipulation and you still don't know a damn thing about me. I would think I'd dream up someone smarter for myself."
Again, that frustrating chuckle, as if the ruder and cruder she was, the more she delighted him. He was driving her mad!
"I have been clever enough to find my way around your quills so far, little porcupine," he said, his voice low and dangerous all of a sudden. "It happens every night. Somehow, I know it will hurt you to remind you of that, but it is still the truth of the matter."
It did hurt. It stung like lemon juice in a razor's cut. Kestra growled with frustration until her head fell back and she was screaming. She resented that part of herself that succumbed to his seductions. So what if it were just a dream? She should be able to dictate what constituted an enjoyable dream!
And because she resented it, she hated him.
"Very well," she hissed hoarsely. "Kestra. Kestra Irons. Now come and find me, you son of a bitch. Meet me in the real world and find out how far all this Eurotrash charm of yours will really go. I swear, if I ever set eyes on you in my waking world you will be centuries of sorry!"
She reached wide, swinging to slap him across the face. But the slap altered in the last minute and was actually a closed-fisted pop, square across his jaw.
Before this night, everything had always been so dreamy and ethereal, so compellingly sweet and soft. The punch was unbelievably satisfying, and unexpectedly painful. She reared back, swearing harshly as her bruised knuckles stung as if they were on fire.
She heard him curse, too. Then he spat. She felt him glaring at her through the blurry existence, so she was shocked when he laughed softly.
"Nasty little thing," he accused her.
Suddenly she was given a real lesson in how strong her phantom adversary was. He grabbed her by both arms, jerking her clear off her feet. He found her unwilling mouth with ridiculous precision. She was shocked to realize her fantasy even went so far as to provide the tang of his blood as he took his kiss with possessiveness and a headstrong determination. Had he truly been real, it would have had the potential to brand her, the power to mark her as his.
Suddenly the scent of strung sugar spun away, as if sucked out of the room by a vortex, and Noah opened his eyes with the shock. He found himself staring into wide green eyes, separated by a wending coil of cinnamon-colored hair. Hair he felt against his lips, trapped by his mouth and hers.
Noah choked, thrust Corrine away in horrified shock, and swiped the back of his hand across his mouth as he looked frantically around the sanctum for any hint of her jealous husband's arrival.
"Noah, it's okay," she said quickly, soothingly. "It happens. When I take on the spirit of the Druid you seek, it is a complete possession, as far as your soul is concerned."
"Noah, listen to me. It is just a side effect of the process. It was never me in this room with you. Not unless I pulled myself aside. I am a medium. A channel. I bring the message only. I take no part in how it is delivered or"-she smiled soothingly as she reached to touch his bloodied lip-"or received."
She turned over her hand, shaking out her fingers, one of which was surely off-center from normal.
"Corrine," Noah said, his horrified tone reflecting his expression with perfection, "you broke your finger!"
"Actually, Kestra did when she borrowed me to pop you one. And I don't think it stops at a finger," she confessed, gingerly touching the bones on the back of her hand, which had already begun to swell. "Noah, has she always been so hot tempered? So angry?"
"Let us just say," he admitted, "that this was one of her more impressive nights. What we lack in words, she often makes up for in body language."
"You should have warned me she would be so…"
"Intractable?" Noah gave her a crooked little grin. "I tend to look on it as one of her charms. It has grown on me."
"The difference is she doesn't think you're really going to show up at her doorstep one day. You know otherwise. Maybe you should discuss the matter with Magdelegna first. Your sister seems to have a knack with unwilling people."
It was not lost on Corrine that the Demon King was going to, in great part, relish this particular expedition into dangerous waters.
There's something about these Demon men, she mused.
The more you fought them, the more it seemed to encourage them. Intellectually even more than physically. But Corrine couldn't help but feel a little trepidation. For a short while, she'd become a part of this Kestra. There was something not entirely copacetic about her. However, Corrine didn't have enough information to quite place her finger on it. Hopefully, when they worked on their next and final session the following week, after they were rested from this night's exertions, she would better be able to make sense of the matter.
"Come," the King said abruptly, taking the Druid by her uninjured hand and rising to help her to her feet. "We should get you to a medic."
"Is it true you don't take contracts on people?"
Kestra turned slightly from her study of a lovely oil painting, looking over her shoulder to examine the dapper man who sat behind her in a double-breasted silk suit, wiping a handkerchief repeatedly between his hands.
Sweaty palms, she mused.
"I'm a businesswoman, Mr. Sands, not a murderer." Kestra finally turned from her perusal of the expensive piece of artwork, tossing her long white braid back over her shoulder with habitual emphasis. "And I'm not here to discuss options on future endeavors. We do that on my terms, at a place and time I choose." She smiled softly, walking with practiced grace across the thick carpet covering the penthouse's floor. "We're here to fulfill payment. Nothing more, nothing less."