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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Tears filled the young Druid's eyes as she thought about that. The only thing she could be grateful for was that Leah was far too young to understand what was going on and would probably not think twice about treating her uncle Noah the way she always had. Corrine knew that even if this all stopped that very moment, she wasn't capable of doing the same.
"Noah, you can't be sure you can do this. You could be risking all of our lives for a life that ended a week ago. Please! Please don't-"
She choked on her next word when the King's hand closed like a brutal vise around the back of her neck. He gathered her hair in his fist and jerked her head back so she could see his eyes. Cold and gray and lifeless, they radiated the distance of his rational mind.
"I suggest you start focusing on your task."
Jacob materialized out of a cloud of dust seconds after his wife. She was already several feet in front of him, reaching out with every known sense for any trace of their child.
"I don't understand," she bit out with helpless frustration. "This is the second time we've taken the wrong path, Jacob."
"What I do not understand is why Noah would take off with Leah in the first place. Perhaps it was against his will? I cannot imagine how that would be possible, but the confusion of energy we keep encountering…"
"It is as if we are being purposely misled." His wife completed his thought for him, drawing her bottom lip between her nibbling teeth. She shivered violently, wrapping her arms around herself as if trying to give herself comfort. "I should have known something was wrong when the castle was empty. Instead, I waited for an hour, wasting precious time thinking that any minute Noah was going to materialize with our baby in his hands."
Jacob stepped up to his distraught mate quickly, drawing her into a comforting embrace. He fought the urge to get wrapped up in her emotions, knowing all too well that one of them had to keep their head. He would wait until he found Noah before he did anything rash. The truth of the matter was that he had an inexplicable urge to throttle the monarch, whether this was something he could have prevented or not.
Even so, he tried not to follow the specific line of thoughts ghosting ominously in the back of his mind. If he contemplated the worst, it would make Bella even more upset. It was near impossible to keep thoughts away from one who was as intimate with his mind as he was, but he would damn well try for her sake. Still, he was all too aware that this year's Samhain moon was unusually potent, the very reason they had been forced to have someone babysit their child from dusk to dawn night after night in the first place. Combine that with the fact that Noah's behavior had been somewhat erratic lately, and it made for a frightening recipe.
Still, no one had ever heard of a Demon harming a child while in the throes of Hallowed madness.
"There's always a first time for everything," Isabella whispered softly.
Jacob cursed under his breath. He hadn't meant to fully entertain his thoughts. "It could be that he left Leah somewhere else and what we are following is Noah playing whatever tricks he feels are necessary to delay us while he engages in whatever mayhem. I do not believe for a second that Noah would harm Leah."
"Why now? It's daylight. How can he be expending this amount of energy? What would drive him so hard against his own sense of right and wrong when the moon is not even out?"
"It is out, love. The moon is always out. It never goes away. It is not like the sun, which is blocked from our sight and senses by the whole of the Earth on a daily cyclical basis. When the moon comes into phase, it remains in that phase day and night. And I think we both know that Noah is far too powerful and efficient at his skills to have to worry about replenishing every iota of energy he expends, whatever the time of day."
"And so…" she prompted.
"And so I say you quit playing this game of merry-go-round and go to the most reasonable place you think Noah would leave Leah if he were dropping her into someone else's care. Borrow enough of my power to get you there and let me know what you find. Meanwhile, I am going to make sense of this trick of trails and hunt down our monarch before he does something he will sorely regret."
"Okay," she agreed. She quickly kissed his mouth. She closed her eyes, but didn't take the time to enjoy the intimacy of the touch. She focused inside herself where she kept her ability to siphon Nightwalker power. She didn't hesitate to tear an enormous chunk for herself out of Jacob's power. He would replenish quickly once she was out of range, using the resources of the Earth around him. Her borrowed resources, however, were limited to what she stole and the amount of time she could maintain a grip on them. It had taken her quite a bit of practice to engage in even the most rudimentary form of this skill; this one was a little more on the monumental side.
As she fled in a frantic cloud of dust, Jacob exhaled and sat down hard on the ground. In his sudden physical weakness, he could only watch her go. But it wasn't long after that before he got up and began to unravel the web of deceit his liege lord had woven for him.
"You don't count?" Sands asked.
Kestra glanced up at him from beneath lashes as white as her hair, her almost translucent blue eyes training on him.
"Do I need to?"
"Of course not."
"Why not?" she asked casually.
Sands laughed. "Are you kidding? Anyone who would try to cheat you would have to be insane."
"And there's the reason why I never have to count," she rejoined, picking up the box and tucking it into her purse. She shouldered the leather accessory with ease, as if all it had within it was a comb and lipstick, not nearly a quarter million dollars in cash.
"We'll be calling you again," Sands said cordially.
"I would imagine so."
Sands stood up, wiped his palm on his kerchief, and extended the hand to her. Kestra merely smiled politely and kept both her hands on her purse strap. Handkerchief or not, she wasn't about to get slimed, and she wasn't going to give him the opportunity to grab her by her hand.
The thought gave her pause. That was when she realized something wasn't quite right. The shiver that suddenly walked up her spine, resting with a sharp tingle at the base of her hairline as it was doing right now, had never failed to alert her that something bad was about to happen to her.
She lowered her thick white lashes until they all but obscured the blue diamond irises of her eyes. She glanced around the room yet again, as she had been doing since stepping into the unknown territory. This time she caught the slightest shadow of movement in the hallway behind Sands's back.
She sighed, long and regretfully, flicking open her icy eyes so she could give him a cold glare. "Whatever you are planning," she hissed chillingly, "let me warn you it's not a good idea."
Then, without waiting for a reply, she swung out with her heavily weighted purse and clocked him upside his head. Kestra popped out of her heels and made a mad dash across the room. Heading for the door would be a mistake, leaving her too open if the person in the hallway was armed, so she dove over the breakfast bar and into the kitchen where she would be out of his or her line of sight. Unfortunately, it put her far from the only apparent exit from the penthouse.
She reached into her bag for her gun, dropping everything else as she cupped it in her hands and laid her finger over the trigger. All the clues to trouble were now in the forefront of her mind, making her curse herself for missing them at the outset. She glanced toward Sands as she eased into the kitchen entrance. He was out cold and bleeding heavily into the formerly pristine carpet, near her abandoned shoes. The question on her mind was how many others might be hiding in the enormous suite.
She was screwed, and she knew it. A second later the wall near her head exploded. She yelped as drywall was flung everywhere and in rapid succession as someone shot through it from the opposite side. All she could do was drop down to the floor as the wall shattered above her, raining plaster and water down onto her. As the path of holes being blown into the wall started to descend toward her prone body, she had no choice but to get out of range as quickly as possible. She scrabbled against the Italian tile, her stocking feet sliding without purchase as she pulled forward on her hands. She grabbed the carpet, her fingers of her left hand gaining purchase on the thick fibers of the pile. She barely had both knees on the carpeting before a huge hand grabbed her by her thick blond braid and jerked her hard to her feet.
She felt the burn of a hot gun muzzle against her temple.
There was the slap of flesh meeting flesh a second before the gun fired near her ear. Kestra dropped to the floor, but miraculously found herself with her head intact. Her ear was ringing painfully, but her attacker had missed. She looked up quickly and saw why.
A tall, black-haired man with the build of a roughneck had the gunman by the arm and did exactly what she would have done had she been given the chance. He broke it clean in half. He grabbed the screaming thug by the back of his collar, slamming him face-first into the near wall so hard that Kestra could easily imagine the snap of one or two more bones, even though she would be lucky if she could hear herself sneeze at that point.
But there was nothing wrong with her eyesight.
She watched as her assailant was dropped at the other man's feet without even a hint of care or concern for his life, an attitude of contempt she was very much inclined to share. Then she saw a second male, no doubt the one who had been playing turkey shoot with her through the wall, run around the bend of the back hallway.
"Look out!" Her warning was apparently unnecessary. So was the bead she drew with her suddenly remembered weapon. The newcomer left his first victim behind him as he stepped into the path of the second. It was as if he couldn't care less that these men were armed. James accused her of having a death wish sometimes; this man who was in the process of saving her life was that term personified, apparently. He was also incredibly fast. One second a gun was brought up in his face; the next he had hold of the other man's arm, wrenched it almost completely around, and moved to strike him in the face with a speed that was unreal for someone his size. She knew an expert fighter when she saw one, but this was out of the scope of even her experience. There was no trading of blows, just him eliminating threats with perfunctory ease.
He turned as the second gunman fell, and her eyes went wide at the imposing sight he made, sturdy legs braced apart, hands half curled into fists, green-gray eyes lit high with the fever of the fight. All of this while dressed in a wardrobe she could only identify as being antiquated. With skintight breeches and a loose, billowing shirt of silk tucked in at his lean waist, he looked like he had stepped off an old pirate ship. Right down to his highly polished boots and the brief ponytail held back by a simple black strip of leather or something like it.
"Come with me."
He held a hand down to her as she stared at him.
"As if!" she exclaimed, getting quickly to her feet and backing away from him. "Thanks for the help, but I am so out of here." She raised her weapon, eyeing him so he would take the threat seriously. She barely completed her next step back before he wrapped fingers like steel around her left upper arm, disarming her with embarrassing speed and ease, turning her to him and stepping close enough that they bumped bodies.
"Come willingly or not, it is your choice, but you are coming."
For a single suspended instant, Kestra felt the fit of their tense bodies as they stood close enough to exchange heat. Her heartbeat fluttered as she was overwhelmed with the feeling that she knew him somehow. Somehow, his fit and warmth and even his commandeering attitude were instantly recognizable to her. Recognizable, but not identifiable.
"I choose not to come," she snapped at him.
She moved with lithe, determined speed, breaking his hold on her arm swiftly as she recoiled to strike him. He barely ducked fast enough to miss getting clocked in the nose by her palm. She unleashed herself on him with rapid violence, landing half the strikes she intended to, clearly learning as she went how best to feint and orchestrate his responses. But Kestra fought with her emotions in this instance, probably without even knowing why. Her true advantage was that he refused to strike back at her.
He had been human.
But Noah was not human, and he was not very full of patience at the moment, either. Ungrateful thing that she is, he thought with an inner chuckle. Kestra was suddenly faced with nothing but air. Then she felt an arm wrapping around her from behind. He jerked her clean off her feet and up into his body, pressing her back and bottom tightly to the contours of rock-hard muscle beneath the delicate fabrics he wore. Kestra gasped when his free arm crossed over her breasts, trapping her beneath flat, open palms of his powerful hands.
"Good night, Kikilia," he whispered on a hot breath into her ear.
Kestra opened her mouth to lambaste him, but the next thing she knew her body was draining of energy so rapidly she was suddenly terrified there wouldn't be enough left for her to draw her next, much-needed breath. She fell down into the will of his embrace, blackness overwhelming her.
Isabella coalesced with a sharp snap in Corrine's living room. It made no sense to her that Corrine would take Leah without sending Kane to them with a quick pop-in-o-matic message telling them so. Even if it had been terribly close to dawn, Corrine would have known she'd be mad with worry and would have found a way to reassure her that her daughter was safe in her care. Then again, Kane was limited to teleporting to places he had been to or seen before. With the two Enforcers running around like they had been, getting a locus on them would have been impossible for Kane.
Bella rubbed her hands together anxiously as she oriented herself to her surroundings. Right away her hunting senses flared to life, alerting her to the presence of not only her daughter, but her sister and the elusive Demon King. Instantly on the heels of that was the aura of something else…something powerful and distorted…and a blanketing underlayer of fear that was so potent, the little Druid could practically taste it.