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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Noah stood up abruptly, pacing over the playing toddler in order to lean close against the mantel. Normally the proximity to such intense heat would comfort him, but this time it did not.
He wanted to burn. Oh yes, he was impervious to any and every form of flame or molten fire that the natural world could offer up, but this wasn't what he meant. In his dreams, she had made him burn. Kestra Irons. He laughed with the dry irony of her last name. The metal iron was toxic to Demonkind. It burned on contact. Just like Kestra.
The fire of passion was no stranger to him; he manipulated it well and with arrogant skill, and he had more than one lover in his history who would attest to that with a longing sigh of remembrance. This thing with the woman who had pervaded his sleeping world was out of reach of all of that. It was transient and lacking cohesion, and yet somehow all the more real. Now made unreal and inescapably out of reach for all the rest of time as he knew it.
Noah shivered. He was unused to selfish thought. He was a man who lived every moment of his existence with the well-being of so many others as his first priority. Family. When not family, Council. When not family or Council, the multitude of his subjects. If none of them, then the races of others with which they associated. That was the essence of a good monarch. Everyone else must come first, especially those you loved best.
In that moment, all he wanted was to put himself first.
Whatever the cost.
No matter who had to pay.
Isabella entered the King's castle without even bothering to knock. It wasn't so much that she had developed altered manners from living in Demon society as it was that, to Noah, privacy was an alien, if not impossible, concept. Dozens of people moved in and out of his home throughout the night, and he expected it to be so.
Since Noah still had Bella's daughter in his care, she had even more cause to march in unannounced. She rounded the wall of the foyer, entering the Great Hall and heading automatically for the enormous fireplace that Leah was constantly in front of, whatever the season, whenever she stayed with him. Her steps hitched when the Turkish rug, so well worn from years of children playing upon it, lay as abandoned as the toys scattered over it.
She wasn't worried, just surprised. She crossed her arms over her middle, her fingers drumming thoughtfully in the curve of her waist for a moment. She was a hunter, like her husband, and all she need do was quiet her thoughts and concentrate on her target. She would find them wherever they were in the enormous house without having to shout or search rooms. Filtering through scent and residual patterns of warmth, she was able to sort out which belonged to her daughter and her liege.
To her continuing surprise, it led out of Noah's home entirely. This perplexed her because it was nearing dawn. The dawn and the sunlight were things best avoided for those of the Nightwalker races, aside from the incredibly powerful Elders. And while that description fit Noah, her daughter was a very different matter. Though a Demon and Druid mixed child was a unique creature, there was no guarantee that her mother's blase human immunity to the sun would be an inherited trait. For Demon children, the sun could make them very weak and ill. It even had the potential to kill vulnerable children not yet in their power. They would fall asleep and simply never wake up. Isabella and Jacob had never had a desire to test their child's tolerance to sunlight. They would wait until she was older before trying such tricks.
It was unusually irresponsible for Noah to take the little girl elsewhere when daylight was so near, especially because Isabella or Jacob always came and collected her exactly one hour before the dawn. Still, the young mother didn't worry or panic. Leah was with Noah, after all. The King would rather die than expose her to harm. He was probably already on his way home and just running a little late.
So Isabella turned to flop down into the seat nearest the fire, sighing contentedly as she stretched out a body quite weary from a long night's work. The closer it got to Samhain and the full moon, the more she and Jacob were forced to hunt down Demons who lost control of their logic and normal temperaments. After a night like the one they had just had, she was always very tired and more than happy to go to bed.
She wouldn't have to worry about another out-of-control Demon until dusk the next day.
Corrine lay down in bed gratefully, feeling exhausted mentally and emotionally, both of which manifested in her body as weary muscles and achy bones. Kane was already in bed, anticipating the coming dawn that left him so lethargic. She had showered off the soot and soil of the night's exertions, so she brushed her still-damp hair out into a fan of dark coils, back over her pillow, with a single sweep of her arm. With choreography of thought that came so easily to telepathically connected partners, Kane turned toward her and drew her warm curves tightly against the cradle of his body.
"Sleep," he murmured gently. "The coming night will provide ample time for you to obsessively worry."
"I know. I just can't escape the feeling that we shouldn't let Noah deal with this alone," she whispered back to him.
"I agree. But day is come and he will sleep like the rest of us. We'll attend him first thing in the evening."
"Thank you," she said, hugging the arms wrapped around her.
"I haven't done anything," he chuckled, rubbing his cheek against hers.
"Go to sleep. I'll tell you why you're so wonderful in the evening."
Corrine punctuated this with a yawn, closed her eyes, and quickly fell asleep, still smiling at her husband.
Something disturbed Corrine in her sleep just enough to make her brow furrow. She turned her head restlessly, but was suddenly halted as an abrupt hand on her mouth stilled her movement and pushed her head back into the pillow with a heavy weight.
Despite the depth of her sleep, Corrine's eyes flew open wide. She panicked for all of a moment, but then realized she recognized the man who was leaning over her in the slightly brightened room. She exhaled with relief as she looked up into Noah's gray-green eyes.
Her relief was short-lived. As she looked up at the King, Corrine was overwhelmed with the very powerful intuition that something wasn't right. First of all, Noah would never approach her in such a rude manner. No matter how badly he might need her help, he simply would not ever wake her behind her husband's back. Or, in this case, leave him sleeping beside her in ignorance. Corrine's heart began to beat a rapid cadence as the King leaned farther over her, boring his gaze into hers so deeply that she felt as if he were strip-mining her thoughts with angry clarity.
"If you attempt to wake him, I will be forced to drain his energy even more than I already have," Noah whispered to her, his gentleness of voice and manner giving her a terrible chill because it was so clearly in opposition to his actions. "If I do that, it will leave him quite weak and vulnerable to the day. He is young yet, Corrine, and I do not know what that would do to him."
Corrine flicked a wide, frightened gaze from Noah to her defenseless husband. She couldn't control the panic in her thoughts, so she closed her eyes and briefly prayed that Noah's manipulations and the lethargy of the day were enough to keep Kane from picking up on her alarm. The connection that had grown between them was now so strong that there was very little guarantee of that. For the first time she wished she were still at that weaker level of telepathy that had made it so hard for them to communicate mentally early on. She had no idea why Noah was leaning over her, threatening her and her husband in the bright light of day, but instinct screamed at her that it wasn't quite Noah who was looking down on her.
She opened her eyes once more, giving a single, distinct nod. It would be senseless to fight him. Not only because she had no power with which to do so, but because even if she did, he could easily overcome her.
How she longed for her sister's ability to siphon away power in that moment. Oh, she had a version of this herself; every Druid did. However, in their human/Druid hybrid way it tended to be limited only to their Imprinted partner. It was part of the balance that helped soothe the Demon soul and control a Demon's power in its less controllable moments. As with Bella, the trick was to turn it off. It was this ability, as well as the emotional weaving of souls, that kept a Demon safe from madness. It was another reason why an Imprinted partner was even more precious to a Demon than diamonds.
Noah was dragging her out of bed with a painful hand around her arm when that thought and all its implications sank into Corrine's awareness. It was nearing Samhain, the moon becoming fuller every moment, the pressure of its influence weighing down heavily on even the most powerful and moral of Demons. The realization altered her entire perception about what was happening; however, she couldn't protest in any fashion. Noah's grip was like iron, holding her to his body and forcing her into silence. The Demon King was hot against her back, completely at odds with the few degrees cooler that normal Demon body temperature was compared to humans. His bare fingers scalded her lips and cheeks like tea that was a little too hot. He marched her out of the room and closed the door behind them. Only when he shoved her toward the stairs did he finally release her.
Corrine didn't even look back at him. She lowered her head and obeyed his obvious command in silence. She preceded him down the stairs as she tried to force herself to think. If she attempted to wake Kane, Noah would instantly recognize his shift in energy. She wasn't even sure she could rouse her husband so far into daylight hours and after he had been manipulated by Noah's powers. Noah was right. Kane was too young to have even the dregs of a hope of coming up against the King's powers. Corrine was even more disadvantaged.
When they reached the first floor, she realized with increasing dread that she wasn't Noah's sole focus. Leah, who was curled up asleep on the couch and sucking her thumb enthusiastically, was also involved. Corrine was frightened and baffled as she rushed over to her niece. She gathered the babe to her breast protectively and searched her quickly for damage.
"What the hell is the matter with you?" she cried out, glaring at the Demon King with the infamous temper that ran through the blood of her family. Noah smiled, and somehow that chilled Corrine more than his anger would have. He moved over to her and Leah, leaning forward slightly to meet her wide, green eyes.
"Your sister and her husband will be here soon. Even my talents are not enough to mislead their chase for very long."
That was his answer. There was only one thing that would make him avoid the Enforcers, and he had confirmed what Corrine had already been coming to understand.
Noah had succumbed to the madness of the Samhain moon.
Corrine felt a stab in her heart, realizing that she had partially caused that. The understanding that his destined mate was dead, and in a violent manner that could have been avoided had he only acted sooner, would make for a powerful catalyst toward a surrender to the Hallowed moon. She and Kane had made a grave mistake letting him go off alone in grief.
"Noah, whatever you're thinking of doing, you have to know that it will bring you into conflict with those you love! You will force Jacob and Isabella to-"
"They can try. However, I doubt they will be too eager to do so with their daughter and you, Corrine, in the line of fire. Now stop stalling and get into the back room. The longer you take, the more you increase the chance of them actually taking part in that confrontation you so dread."
Silently, painfully, she tore her gaze from his and obeyed him. The implications of the situation she found herself in were almost too excruciating to bear. She hadn't done many searches for mates thus far, but she had never once entertained the idea that there could be negative consequences. If she had taken a moment to worry about it, she would have understood that an incident like this could very well keep Demons away in droves. Even more so than they already were.
She was occupied with this thought when she was harshly shoved into the room she used for meditation, the one that had seen such tragic revelation only a few hours ago. She fell onto her knees in the mess of soiled pillows and tumbled herbs that Kane had coaxed her into waiting to clean up the next night. The room still smelled heavily of burnt herbs, the char of fire, and even the traces of that moment of time in Chicago.
"Wake the child," Noah commanded frigidly, righting a few candles and lighting them and the remnants of herbs in the brazier with a simple thought.
"Impossible. Not at this hour of the day."
"I will help you," he said, again gracing her with that disturbing smile.
Sure enough, Leah stirred in her arms with a cranky protest and a whine. Corrine hushed her as she apprehensively watched Noah manipulate the surroundings of a place she held sacred.
"Noah, please, what do you expect me to do? I don't even know what I did the first time!"
"Just do what you always do," he said serenely. "It was Leah who brought me to her. You merely gave her a path."
Corrine realized the truth in one heart-stopping breath. Of course! She knew the prophecy of Leah's birth as well as anyone. Why hadn't she realized this earlier? The incident had happened the moment her niece had intruded on their ritual. And now Noah clearly hoped to reproduce the effect. But to what end?
"I will not let her die, Corrine."
"Oh my God, you want to bring her into the present," Corrine gasped, the realization horrifying her. "You want to try to save her and bring her here! My God, Noah, do you have any idea what the ramifications of playing with fate can be? You and your Demons revere Destiny. It's your religion! And you don't even know if it's possible to-"
"I know that if I can do this, it will save her life," he interrupted her coldly, "and that is all that matters to me."
Of course it would be that simple to someone in his state of mind. Isabella had once told her that no one could reason with a Demon in the throes of a Hallowed compulsion, save maybe the Enforcers. Their presence alone tended to have a powerful quelling effect. However, Corrine was beginning to doubt that the mere act of the Enforcers materializing before him would have much of an effect on Noah. He knew what he wanted, and clearly he was willing to do anything to get it done. Even things that, when he came back to his own ordered senses, would devastate him.