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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
He'd sat in it, watching her every breath and trying for all he was worth to reconcile all the emotions churning in his heart, as well as the thoughts and memories plaguing his mind. Noah had said nothing to anyone about how he'd experienced his first live meeting with Kestra. Besides himself and his intended mate, only Corrine had witnessed it.
How had Kestra come to be in such a situation? Who was she? Why would a human female, seemingly without power, ever put herself in such danger? She knew how to fight, clearly knew how to use a weapon, and showed a remarkable lack of fear for a mortal being, but…
What was it she had been doing that had apparently been worth dying for? Did she have any idea how close she'd come to death? That if not for him, death would have claimed her a second or two later? He'd seen it, the picture of it flashing violently in his memory, still terrifying him even though it was over and no longer a threat to her safety and her life. She was safe. Within his reach. Here.
He should say something to her, he knew, but found he couldn't think of a single word that would be appropriate for such an extraordinary situation. If what he'd intruded upon at his arrival was a commonplace occurrence in her life, it was no wonder she'd fought him so frantically in their dreams. How could a woman who lived so dangerous a lifestyle ever trust anyone? He laughed in his own head over the irony. He'd been high-handed and arrogant, always pushing to get his way, and it seemed he was going to be rewarded for that on many bitter levels. He'd wasted time playing games and struggling with her for the power of the dreams they shared. Now she was here, lying in his bed, looking at him with suspicious eyes, and he realized for the first time that he'd squandered a hundred chances to make this so much easier. If only he'd acknowledged the importance of the dreams months ago, perhaps she would not be looking at him in such a hostile manner.
Now that she was there, what did she think of him in reality?
He could easily imagine the answer to that.
The devastating pain of Isabella's wounded hatred had been more than enough karmic justice to glut him with guilt, and the King didn't think he could face any more recriminations from this woman who was supposed to be the most precious gift he'd ever receive.
However, he was also unaccustomed to behavior that reflected a certain level of fear or even cowardice, so he was compelled to move forward if only to prove to himself that he wasn't afraid to meet his fate, whatever it turned out to be. He moved through light and shadow until he reached the back of the chair he'd occupied for the past twelve hours or so, keeping as close to her as he could, feeding her body with his energy as she fed his emaciated soul with her mere presence and closeness.
As he neared her, rounding the chair, he fell within the range of the lone candle sitting on the bedside table. As the light fell over his height and his features for the first time, Kestra made a startled sound. Noah's eyes darted quickly to hers, the wide pools of startling blue ice reflecting her shock and trepidation. Her breathing doubled in speed and he could sense all the energy of her body focusing and coiling into the reflexes of her muscles, readying her to spring away from him should the need arise. Otherwise, she sat perfectly still, her eyes never even blinking as she kept them on him.
Slowly, Noah continued to take his seat. He leaned back, remaining relaxed in appearance somehow, in spite of the surges of emotion twisting within his stomach and psyche.
He'd never expected her to be as breathtakingly beautiful as she was. It had barely crossed his mind, he realized, except when it came to the sight and feel of her hair. Long, sugar-white, pin-straight, and sheeting thickly to the middle of her back, her wispy bangs the only curve it could lay claim to. Braided as it was, it was pulled back high and tight, still as neat as it had been from the start, in spite of her having slept on it for so long.
If possible, her eye color was even more remarkable than her hair. Her pupils were an astonishing light blue, almost like very lightly tinted glass, faceted like diamonds with outstanding luster. White lashes and blond brows lent eerily beautiful accent to her penetrating gaze. She had a truly gorgeous face, with flawless skin, softly defined cheekbones, and a mouth that looked twice as luscious as it had felt when they had kissed in their dreams. Perhaps it was the inviting pink innocence of their color that made him think so.
The longer he sat in silence, making no moves or declarations to satisfy whatever curiosities she must be full of, the more she allowed her muscles to relax. She slid up against the headboard very slowly, until her shoulder was situated securely against it and she was fully facing him. Noah recognized what she was doing. She was guarding her back. Leaning up against the headboard, she could feel a little more comfortable about keeping her focus on him.
He supposed that, to her, he was no more or less dangerous than the men who had succeeded in killing her a week ago.
"I think you better tell me who you are and why you were in Sands's penthouse. Are you some kind of cop?"
"Why would you think that?" he asked curiously.
"I don't know. I didn't hear you come in, so I figure you were already there. Since you didn't seem to like the bad guys, I figured you were working undercover and had to…well, if you're a cop, you couldn't just sit there and let them kill me."
"Excellent logic," he said.
"But I am not a cop."
"Oh." She squinted at him with apparent confusion. "Do I have to ask twenty questions or are you going to explain this?"
"I see you do not recognize me," he remarked carefully. "I told you I needed to find you."
That gave her pause and she tensed tightly against the headboard. Kestra's eyes moved over him with amazing scrutiny as she tried to figure out why she should know him. She never forgot a face. Considering the multitude of people she encountered in her travels, that was truly saying something. But she was positive she'd never laid eyes on him in all her life. She would remember a face like that: dark and tanned, serious, yet clearly prone to amusement and laughter when the crinkles near the corners of his eyes were taken into account.
All that aside, people of power and confidence always made an impressive mark on her. Even sitting in the soft light of the candle and stray beams of color that broke through the windows, she could see and sense that he was a formidable man. Power. A position of some importance somehow in the world. A leader. Something about all she'd seen so far told her he was capable of conquest. He had certainly shown no hesitation or fear when he'd come to her aid.
Damn if that didn't bite her butt. She wasn't exactly the type of woman who enjoyed playing the helpless blonde while Mr. Savior came to rescue her. It was a bad impression to make at the outset. There was something about him, though. Beyond all the rest, she felt as though he was right on the mark. She did know him from somewhere.
More importantly, his accent. Deep, resonant, a careful enunciation of certain consonants, and the tendency of foreigners to avoid contractions. Kestra felt her chest constrict suddenly as all her blood threatened to rush out of her brain.
The breathy identification made him laugh, a rough bark of humor that made her sudden recognition take a leap forward.
"That…this is…" she stammered. "No. No, no, no, no, no! This is bullshit!"
He was a dream. Only a dream! What was worse, he was acting as if he knew all about those dreams! As if he had truly been there all those times when she had…when they had…
Kestra put both hands to her temples, squeezing her head hard as if it would pop her rampant imagination out of her brain. Then she jumped out of the enormous bed, taking to the floor on the opposite side from where he sat, pacing frantically across the slightly chilled floorboards. She saw him rise to his feet out of the corner of her eye and she instinctively stepped two feet farther from him, continuing her short, agitated circuit of steps.
"You're not going to make me believe you're some sort of dream that poofed to life. I'm not a child and I don't believe in fairy stories anymore!"
"You once believed in fairy stories?" he asked, sounding genuinely interested.
"Never mind that!" Kestra snapped. "Tell me what's going on here, or I swear I'll…I'll…"
"Make me 'centuries of sorry'?"
"Yes!" She gasped in horror. "No! How did you-?"
"Because I was there," he said, his tone so low and so soft it was frightening in its truth.
Kestra downshifted suddenly, her spinning wheels finally making purchase as she reached that level of panic that always clicked into a cold calm. It was an emotional and physical reflex she'd had since…well, for too long. All emotion was cut off, only logic and instinct remaining as she faced what the overcharged parts of herself had suddenly found so threatening.
"I see," she murmured softly.
And so did Noah. Her energy aura went through a massive shift right before his eyes, something he'd seen before, but on a much, much smaller scale. It was as if she'd cut one switch and fired up a new one. The soft nimbus that he could see around her fluttered from pink and white with rushes of red, to an almost uniform blue with a sense of order and uniformly applied focus. The Demon King felt an eerie sting of sensation flying across his back from one shoulder to the other, causing the hair at the back of his neck to prickle to attention.
"Listen, Kestra, I am not here to hurt you," he said as sincerely as he could, holding out a staying hand. "There is plenty of time for explanations in the-"
"Actually, now is a perfect time for explanations," she said softly, slowly making her way around the foot of the bed, finally coming toward him. "I've known men capable of all kinds of trickery in my time, but I confess that I'm baffled as to how you were able to pull this off. I should've known. The human mind does not function in that way without some kind of psychopharmaceutical assistance." Kestra rounded the second corner of the bed, now only a few steps away from him. "Every day for six months. Dozens of countries, hotels, water supplies…how did you do it?"
"It was not anything like that. I admit that, in a way, I am responsible for the dreams, but-"
"You admit that? How magnanimous of you."
"But you are just as guilty as I am," he finished sharply. "You have been haunting my every sleeping moment with your fickle nature and this need you have to always be in control."
"Me?" She laughed hard and short. "I never asked for this! Why would I want some arrogant S.O.B. taunting me and constantly groping at me like some kind of horny adolescent boy?"
"Hey, you give a fair enough grope yourself," he snapped back at her. "And it is not as though I have a choice in the matter. Like it or not, you were made for me."
"I was…" She gasped with outrage at his audacity. "I must have missed the part where I stepped back in time. Could you be any more full of barbaric testosterone? Made for you? Well, thank God you found me so I can finally have a purpose in the world!"
"That is not what I meant," he growled, his frustration very clear as he stepped close enough to go nose to nose with her, had they been the same height. Despite his sparking temper, he was aware of the wash of her cotton candy scent slipping around his ravenous senses. "You cannot measure me by the standards you use to measure other men. Trust me when I say all the rules you are used to have changed, and they will continue to do so for quite some time."
"Trust you? A supercilious stranger? I don't even trust people I'm tempted to call my friends! You come on strong with this whole mysterious stranger gig and you think I should flutter my lashes, be weak in the knees, and so very flattered that you took the time to notice me?"
"If I have been mysterious," he retorted tightly, "it has been purely accidental. I do not think you should be anything other than the woman you already are. Although, given a choice, I would delete the sarcastic snobbery and the bullet bull's-eye on your head, but I do not have a choice. You do not have a choice. The Fates decide, and they do not take suggestions."
"Oh, there's always a choice. It's called free will, sweetheart. I was born with it, and I'm going to exercise it. Starting right now."
Kestra sidestepped him, marched around him, and headed for the nearest door. She yanked hard on it, but it barely opened an inch before the weight of his hand on it slammed it shut again. She found herself trapped between him and the door as he loomed darkly over her, and she turned around quickly in the confined space.
"You are free to leave if you wish, but I will have to insist on a few things first," he said, his voice low and gravelly with what she suspected was deeply repressed emotion.
"Such as?" It was really all she could say or do. She'd already tried to attack him once before. He was too strong and skilled, even for her impressive skill in martial arts. It wasn't worth expending energy on a hopeless cause. She would simply have to outsmart him.
He took a moment while she thought, using it to slide his eyes over her long, well-built body. Even with her feet braced hard apart and her hands curled into fists, he found her extraordinary. Probably even because of it. She was flushed with temper, a condition he could admire even though it aggravated him as well. The element he'd been born to was the epitome of volatility. If she had been easy, compliant, and too biddable, she wouldn't have been able to play flint to his steel. It was just one of many facets she had that made his entire body tighten with anticipation and his heart thrum with uncontrollable stimulation. Her body was hot with her raised temper, and that scent of warm sweetness was intoxicating.