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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
She would trick him first, and then she would run and hide. Nothing was going to make her do this terrible thing. No one was going to make her love so unlovable a male.
Syreena stood in the empty window casement, her slim hands braced on the cold, flat stone. The Romanian early winter breeze swept over the jagged mountain and chilled lakes before churning harshly up the walls of the towering edifice that had come to be her home, reaching her exposed position at last. The biting chill and powerful press of it blasted through the casement and into her body, snapping the heavy satin of her loose gown back until it was plastered against her like a white, shining skin, the excess fabric whipping behind her body as if it were a standard of truce.
When a man's hand slid into the curve of her waist, the contrary warmth of it gave her goose bumps that flushed up her belly and breasts. She turned to look down at him with a smile that was full of delight and mischief. She reached down with a stone-cold hand to stroke her fingers across his face.
Then she leapt out of the window.
Damien, Prince of the Vampires and husband to the high-diving woman, stepped up into the window she had abandoned and quickly leaned over to watch what would become of his wife.
She laid her arms back along her body as she rushed headlong toward the jagged rocks at the base of his family holdings. Her loose gown whipped and billowed, the fabric sheeting back until it slipped entirely free of her lithe body, buffeting into a swatch of swirling white as it continued on to the stones below.
Syreena, however, would not be joining it. In a flash, she went from the form of a beautiful human woman to the swift dip and reel of a small peregrine falcon. She did this just in time to avoid the sharp rocks below. And though she was famous for her "on the fly" Lycanthropy, she still had the power to take her husband's breath away with the trick, after making him hold it in a fearful moment of doubt. It wasn't that Damien doubted the skills of his clearly talented wife. She was the most skillful Lycanthrope alive. It was because he still had moments where he imagined he couldn't be so lucky as to be the first and only Vampire in his society for eons to know what true and lasting love really was. He was the only Vampire alive who was married, and to an outsider no less. He had broken a great deal of ground, and more than one long-standing law, in order to take her as his bride.
That had been a little over nine months ago, and a great deal had happened since they had gone public with their relationship. The results had been mixed. Some good, some bad. It was the bad things that drove his wife to jump out of windows in the highest towers of the castle.
He didn't have to tax himself to figure out what had happened that had her turning to her ability to fly as the falcon for release and escape. He was Prince of the coldest, most troublemaking race of Nightwalkers alive. And while their respect, civility, and Vampire law kept them in line for the most part, Damien's marriage to Syreena had given a few of the more unruly members of his society an excuse to start trouble. This trouble had taken all kinds of forms, but it was the most recent that had gotten under Syreena's skin.
Damien watched as she reeled toward the lake, flying like a quick brown and black kite, lofting from one shelf of air to another with a skill that always impressed him. The Vampire wasn't as assured of his shape-changing abilities as his wife was. He changed and became a large, glossy black raven while still safely seated on the windowsill. He'd only had the ability to become the raven for the last year. While he had flown all of his life in the shape of a man, a skill every Vampire had after a certain age, it wasn't until he had fed off his bride that he was able to become the raven. Now, as he flew after her, it was clear what the months since then had done for his skill. Still, he preferred to be cautious as he practiced. It would be silly to end a millennium-long lifetime with an awkward splat on the rocks below. It would be a rather ignominious end to the longest-reigning and most powerful Prince in Vampire history.
Damien chased down his wife with determination. She had given herself away, and he was fixated on hearing her troubled thoughts. Before she had wed him, she had been a Princess in her own right, heir to the Lycanthrope throne and counselor to the current Queen, her sister Siena. So she was no stranger to political machinations and the sometimes undesirable results that churned forth from them. But that didn't make it any easier for her to bear them. Not when they touched her so personally.
Syreena was diving toward the glassy surface of one of the mountain lakes. That was when Damien knew she was aware of him following her. She would make her next change on purpose, knowing full well how much he hated the bracing cold of winter water. That, more than the breakneck dive of earlier, could be successful at dissuading him from following.
She morphed from bird to dolphin about five feet above the water as she dove toward it. She cut the water cleanly, only a ripple from the break of her tail fins giving away her entrance point. Damien didn't follow. He lighted on a rock and changed back to his masculine form, crossing his long legs casually and resting a hand on his thigh as he waited for her to surface.
It wasn't that he couldn't swim. It was just that a Vampire's body temperature remained warm only as long as the blood from his last feed remained so. He had no circulation to speak of, so he steadily lost heat over time, becoming colder to the touch the further he got from his last feeding. If he followed his wife into the water, it would suck the heat out of him in an instant, and he wouldn't be allowed to so much as touch her or kiss her until he fed again and warmed his icy flesh. A delay like that would impede his desire to comfort her when she finally stopped her torrid escape.
The subject of his thoughts surfaced in the middle of the lake, this time in the shape of herself. At least above the water. Below, he had no doubt that she resembled a mermaid instead of a human, with a fin, not legs, keeping her buoyant. In all this changing, there was only one form she hadn't taken as yet that was available in her repertoire: the winged woman she liked to call the harpy. This gave her a total of five forms, two more than a normal Lycanthrope. She was a mutation, a unique creature amongst her people. Amongst all Nightwalkers. But extra forms or not, Damien would have known that anyway.
At last, Syreena began to swim toward him.
The decision now made to go to him, she did so with all speed, the strong fin below the water propelling her swiftly. She made the transition from water to land as smoothly as she had made all her others, tossing back her dark hair as it dripped sparkling water into the air around her. He uncrossed his legs, opening his arms to her, and she slid into his embrace as she knelt before the rock that made up his makeshift seat.
Damien sighed in tandem with her as she accepted his strong comfort. He placed a gentle line of kisses across her forehead and down to her ear, where he spoke softly to her. "If it will make you feel better, I can send Jasmine to Noah instead of going myself."
She released a breath that gave her away, reflecting how much she would prefer that. "But you said, as a matter of protocol and respect, you should bring this bad news to him yourself. And I hate to say so, but I agree it might be the better choice. Jasmine can be-well, she's your counselor, not one of your diplomats. Even she would agree there is a good reason for that."
Damien chuckled at the politely worded assessment of Jasmine's frequently volatile temperament. "True, but through everything she has been perfectly loyal to me. She would never upset my carefully cultivated relations with Noah and the Demon people. She knows how important peace among the Nightwalker clans is going to be for everyone's future." He paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Come to think of it, Jasmine could also stay there until some of this is resolved. Between her and Horatio, they would be best able to sense a threat of this nature."
"Mmm, and he is her brother. They should have a chance to visit."
"And I get to stay here with you."
"Now, that is definitely a bonus," she laughed. "Of course, Jasmine being hundreds of miles away skulking in someone else's hallways is a special benefit."
"You are very naughty," he scolded. "I would think you two would have resolved your issues by now. It has been almost a year."
"Yes, well…" She smiled briefly before she leaned in to kiss him, taking his flavor onto her tongue hungrily for a long moment before releasing him and licking her damp lips. His hands slid over her chilled back, her bare skin cool but still somehow warmer than his in some places.
"It is settled, then," he murmured softly against her mouth as he readied to kiss her once again. "Jasmine will go in my stead to warn Noah. We will stay here with Stephan and try to resolve the situation on our end. Perhaps all of this will be over quickly and come to nothing. Meanwhile, I will be home with my wife, keeping her warm and comfortable, and…"
"And taking advantage of her heat cycle so we can try to get pregnant," she finished for him with relief. "Damien, I have waited so long to begin a family. If you left during my heat, I don't think I could bear the loneliness and knowing that every day you are gone will be an opportunity wasted. We have talked of nothing else for the past three months, ever since we decided we were ready for it…and that it would be the best thing we could do to bring our disparate backgrounds together. Perhaps, if you have an heir with me, the Vampires will stop all this infighting and will finally begin to accept the choice you made in me."
"Sweetheart, we have talked about this," he scolded her gently, running a broad, graceful hand down the length of her wet hair. "We will do this for us, and for us alone. As with our wedding, it is their duty to adapt to us. Those who do not adapt, those who think to fight me-let them come if they dare."
"Damien," she breathed nervously, sweeping her fingers into his hair and holding him in place for her mouth and its desperate kiss.
He knew her fears too well for words. Even without his telepathy, he had come to know her nearly better than he knew himself. She was more emotional than she normally would be, more fearful as her mating cycle rapidly approached and more of their impending future was put up for scrutiny.
Syreena had two mating cycles every year. Spring and fall, close to the full moon at Beltane and the one at Samhain. These short weeks every year were the only time she could conceive, no matter how frequently they made love at any other time. Last spring had been an experience unlike anything Damien had encountered in his long lifetime of dealing with women. She had been aggressive and insatiable. She had taunted him and teased him and used him to exhaustion almost every minute of the day from the beginning to the end of the cycle.
They hadn't truly decided whether or not they were ready for children before last spring's cycle had struck her, but once it had hit, they hadn't even been able to make an effort at caution or control.
In spite of their recklessness, however, Syreena hadn't conceived.
She had been devastated. It should have been impossible for her to fail to conceive. She'd never heard of a heat cycle not producing a child automatically, in the absence of actions or chemistry to prevent it. So her automatic assumptions began to fall into two categories: first, that something was wrong with her; second, and perhaps the worst of all, that a Vampire and a Lycanthrope couldn't conceive a child. Though there were hints in ancient writings that it was possible, there was no known written or living proof of it. Still, it was illogical for her to blame herself. The Vampire conception rate was notoriously low to begin with.
Regardless, if he was forced to leave her alone for the next cycle in order to take care of business at the Demon court, she would suffer a great deal, and very likely would be impossible to live with. If he thought the atmosphere in his home was hostile now…after three weeks with Syreena on a hormonal bender, in amongst a gathering of Vampires who disapproved of her to start with, there would be a lot of ramifications to deal with.
Neither could they leave together. Stephan and Jasmine could capably protect their holdings, but with the current civil unrest, it would be unwise for both of them to leave the homeland castle unattended. The more he thought on it, the more sending Jasmine seemed like the best solution for everyone. Of course, it would no doubt look like Damien was catering to his bride, an act that many of his species would look on as a weakness.
But Damien didn't care about appearances in this particular situation. He could never leave Syreena to cope with such a painful struggle when his mere presence could prevent it. Apparently she didn't realize that, or else she wouldn't have climbed the tower after hearing him discuss traveling to Noah's court. He would maintain patience, however. She was learning, just as he was, and it did no good for either of them to lose their tolerance for the other's misunderstandings.
For the present, she was catching a good case of the shivers and would be better off inside the citadel walls. He swept her up into his embrace easily just as his feet lifted from the ground. He flew them up to the very same window she had dived from earlier, leading her inside so she could warm up and rest with him as the dawn made its imminent approach.
When the Demon King entered the Council chamber a short time later, a hush fell over the Elders gathered about the triangular table. Noah stood for a moment, assessing the energy of the room. Gossip among Demons, he noted, was one of the fastest-flying creatures in all the world. He had no doubt that everyone around him was at least partially aware of what had so recently transpired.
He didn't hold still long, determined not to be read as reluctant to face his peers. He moved to the large chair at one of the three points of the table that marked its highest-ranking members. The other two points were occupied by his sister's husband, Gideon, who was the only Ancient of their kind, and Jacob, the Enforcer, who reached to cover the small hand of his wife seated next to him.