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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"First, I would have you know my name is Noah, even though it has not occurred to you to ask."
She crossed her arms beneath her breasts and gave him a derisive snort to remind him how little she cared.
"Second," he continued smoothly, "you cannot leave on your own. You are without identification or papers. You would need the help of me or one of my people."
The statement gave her serious pause, her anger shedding sufficiently to make her catch key parts of his phraseology. Why would she need identification or papers to travel? Was she beyond American borders? Chicago was close to Canada. Still, crossing the Canadian border wasn't one of the world's most difficult accomplishments. The way he said it, and taking into consideration the general structure of his accent, she got the dreadful feeling that she'd somehow ended up in Europe. To pull off something like that with an unconscious woman, he would have to be a powerful man. A man authoritative enough to refer to others as "my people." That easy term on his lips gave away the biggest clue of all. He was what she expected him to be, and apparently a whole lot more.
Kestra suddenly realized it would be a very good idea to maintain her composure a little better and pay even closer attention. The last thing she needed was another influential enemy. What was more, she traveled in very highly placed European circles, both lawful and unlawful, and she'd never heard a single reference to a man of his obvious caliber with the name of Noah.
"Is there anything else?" she asked, her tone very subdued.
"Yes," he said softly, leaning closer to her ear as he did so. "I would very much prefer it if you did not leave. I would…I wish to invite you to stay, as my guest."
Just by altering the pitch of his voice, he had managed to change everything about the atmosphere between them. Kestra was suddenly aware of so many small details at once that she became a little breathless. He was incredibly warm, even though he didn't touch her. That earthy scent of toasted wood surrounded her as his heated breath skimmed over her ear and neck.
This was what reminded her of how truly potent the chemistry they had shared in dreams really was. Her heart seemed to pound in response merely to his nearness. He hadn't even touched her and was just as able as ever to manipulate her responses to him. But this was a waking moment; he was not some nameless, faceless entity in a dream. Was it some sort of Pavlovian response, born out of months and months of conditioning?
"I won't spend a moment more than I have to near you," she declared in hot defiance of all she was thinking and feeling. She dared to look up at him directly, and his smiling response infuriated her.
"I see. You are afraid of me."
"No, I'm sick of you. After half a year of your games and manipulations, I've had more than enough!"
"A game you played just as adroitly, Kikilia. With a skill to outshine mine."
"Don't call me that!" she snapped, the nickname solidifying his claims on her dreams and her memory of her part in them.
Noah understood her pique probably better than she realized. Why it served to fascinate him further was momentarily beyond him. She was used to being in control, used to being the one to dictate terms. It was written in everything she said and all of her actions. A personality trait he could identify with entirely. A trait he found unbelievably intriguing.
"I could easily remind you of the rewards to the games we have played in our sleep, Kestra," he said with that incredible arrogance that grated on her. Only, somehow, while standing so close to him in reality, it didn't feel as grating as she would hope. She reached out the short distance between their bodies to lay her palm on his chest, intending to push him out of her personal space. She needed to breathe, needed to think without his warmth and magnetic presence playing havoc with her electrified senses.
Her fingertips and palm slid up against his solar plexus, nestling firmly into the space beneath the arch of his ribs. Through the heavy fabric of his shirt, a loose, navy satin that was thick and so smooth she couldn't feel a single seam in the stitching, she felt the resistance of abdominal muscles. Tight, impressive ridges of sinew coasted down the length of her hand, heat backing the penetrating thought that he was in incredibly good shape. But hadn't she known that already?
Yes and no. Dreaming was one thing, reality clearly another.
Kestra felt a moment of instant panic as she realized what her touch was doing to her senses and her resolve. He didn't even have to do anything, and she was already contemplating things she absolutely should not and could not think about.
"You've had more than your share of fun, messing around inside my head," she said softly. "Why can't you just leave it at that and let me go in peace? You're stronger than I, a better fighter than I, and clearly prevailing in a dozen other ways. Can't you take a gracious victory and just let me go?"
"Is that what you think this is about? Some sort of contest?" he asked. "That has never been my intention."
"What exactly are your intentions?" she demanded, meeting the unusual gray and jade coloring of his bright eyes. "Why is it so important to you to humiliate me like this?"
"If you feel humiliated, Kestra, it is purely by your own device. There is nothing for you to be ashamed of. Why should what you feel be a source of shame?"
"Stop it. Just stop talking like that, like we are…like we know each other! I don't know you. You're a complete stranger to me."
"But is that not how people like you and me relate best when it comes to intimacies with the opposite sex? The less known the better? Passionate bodies without reserve and inhibitions, while our minds and our hearts remain safely put away?"
It was too close to the truth for Kestra's comfort. How he knew that was beyond her. It made her flush uncharacteristically.
"Is that what you want? Is all of this about fulfilling the dream? Will a quick tumble in your bed make you let me go about my business?"
"Quick?" He chuckled, the deep sound resonating across her neck, near where his lowered head hovered. "I am beginning to wonder if you paid any attention at all these past six months."
The innuendo struck its intended mark, causing a burst of excited chills to shimmy over every surface of her skin. Perhaps it was a memory response, because she absolutely remembered the nature of his inference. In her dreams, he had never…
It was just a dream! There was no reality to it! In dreams, a body could do anything it wanted to. No one could have the stamina he had portrayed through the long nights they'd spent entwined in her mind. No man could be that patient and skilled. No male would ever be so sensitive to the needs of a woman's body.
Kestra struck out at him hard, her other hand joining her first, and she pushed him away with all of her might and all the leverage she could muster from the door behind her back.
"Get away from me!" In spite of all her effort, he merely stepped back. He was just as close as ever. "I swear to God, I will hurt you if I have to!" she threatened him, her entire body trembling with fury and frustration.
Even though he knew she couldn't really cause him harm, Noah decided it was best to back off for the moment. He stepped back again, giving her room to breathe. She exhaled hard, relaxing against the door as if she'd just expended more than her limit of strength and energy. She probably had. Her emotions ran just as hot as his did, she just usually hid them beneath a veneer of culture, quick-thinking diplomacy, and logic. Exactly as he did. It was an extraordinary thing, seeing a female version of the most essential parts of himself. It made him wonder what would happen as she began to change. What type of Druid would she become? What power would be at the disposal of the woman meant to be the mate of a Demon King?
Noah knew he should warn her of all the things she would start to experience. He knew he couldn't truly promise to let her go off on her own, at least not for any real length of time. She would be in danger of illness so early in the transformation from human to Druid if she was away from the resources his energy provided for her.
But she was a woman used to her freedoms, and he didn't have the heart to take everything away from her all at once. He would find a way to let her go and keep her just the same-if he had to. He was hoping he could think of a way to coax her to stay. He wished that in all this time he'd learned something more useful about her than the ways around her incredible body. Still, it was impossible to regret a single moment of that time or think of it as wasted.
"I'm going to leave," she said, her breath rapid and deep as she called him on his offer. "I thank you for your gracious invitation, but I'm afraid it's impossible for me to stay."
Noah lifted a single brow at her, and she realized a moment too late what she'd done. Out of habit, she'd fallen back on her finishing-school manners, and by doing so, had given away an important piece of information about herself. Should he decide to look for her, hunt her down in the future, it would make it easier to find her. No one could ever truly cut themselves off from their past. It was her one real weakness, and she'd just given him ammunition to exploit it.
"I will have someone take you to a hotel near a local airport. That will get you as far as Heathrow, but from there you will be on your own, as far as your passport and other things are concerned. You will not need to worry about money. I will arrange for a room in your name and you can freely charge anything you need to that bill. I will take care of it."
"I don't need your charity. I'm-"
"Quite capable of caring for yourself, I know. But I can tell by your expression that you were not expecting to be so far from home and resources. Since that is my fault, it is only right that I correct it. Wait here. I will send someone up to you shortly."
He took her elbow into his hand, gently moving her out of his way so he could pass through the door. She quickly closed it in his wake, leaning back on it and exhaling as if she hadn't drawn a breath in days.
Noah sat before his hearth in the Great Hall.
For all of sixty seconds.
Then he stood up and began to pace across the width of the large fireplace. The fire within gave him little comfort. He felt as though his skin were screaming, as if it would abandon his body and run away if it could.
He'd actually managed to let her go.
True, it had only been a few hours, but already he was strung tighter than he could have ever expected. At the moment, it wasn't because he couldn't control the cravings of his body, although the battle was more intense than ever now that they'd stood in each other's presence. It was the understanding that he'd touched her more than enough to start the emergence of her Druid self, and that she was completely ignorant as to how deadly her distance from him could potentially be these next couple of weeks.
Noah didn't plan to stay away long, even if he could. Unfortunately, time was against him. Just as it had been against him when she had died at the very moment she'd finally been within millimeters of his grasp. Besides her needs during her physical transformation, Samhain was imminent. Come Samhain full moon, Imprinted couples couldn't bear to be apart, even in the slightest, for any length of time. That holy day, as well as the spring full moon of Beltane, called to their basest instincts. It drove them to each other's arms as if it were the last day on earth they would ever spend together. It was violent and hot and loving to the point of making the soul wrench out tears of bliss and agonizing need.
He needed to win her over before that happened.
But Samhain was four days hence, and with a woman like Kestra, trust and acquiescence didn't come that easily.
Noah sat down again, rubbing his right temple as he scowled, the firelight deepening the dark look even as it illuminated it. He would have to be more resourceful now than he ever had been in his lifetime.
Kestra sat down with a sigh of relief she simply couldn't help.
She ran both hands back over her slick, wet hair, smoothing it back until large droplets of water pattered down onto her back, shoulders, and the plush white towel she had wrapped around herself.
She felt better now, although it had taken a sauna and a shower to achieve it.
Or at least she was determined to feel better.
She was glad to be free again, there was no denying that. At the same time, it had been so easy to leave in the first place that she was completely baffled. She couldn't even begin to get the logistics of how she'd ended up in rural England, in a legitimate castle, with a fairly impressive man doing the whole lord-of-the-universe attitude to suit it.
By her tally, she'd used up about half of her nine lives in that day alone. It was a miracle she'd escaped without a scratch, the worst damage being that she was stuck in Europe without clothing, money, or her passport. All of which could be fixed before her hair dried.
She reached for the phone and dialed quickly.
"Ah, James. I can always count on you for a cultured greeting."
"Kes! Where the hell have you been? I've been half out of my mind!"
Kestra heard something crash on the other end of the phone and she smiled with the familiarity of it. It made her feel more grounded to hear him do something as habitual as jumping out of his chair so enthusiastically that it fell over.
"James, if you lost the last half of your mind, that would leave you with an empty skull and you would start to collect dust bunnies in there."
"Kes," he growled impatiently. "It's been all over the news for days. Gunfire at the hotel, at the very suite I sent you to a week ago. They found men there crushed into little pieces and I've been freaking out! I thought you were in jail or dead or something like that."