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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"I'm in England, actually," she said absently, trying to figure out how she'd lost an entire week. It had felt like a day, two at the very most. Could a person sleep for the better part of a week without waking? Maybe others could, but she never had.
There was silence on James's end of the line, so complete that she thought she could hear his heartbeat through the receiver.
"Yes. Long story short? Yes, I had a very bad day yesterday-umm, last week-and I'm still alive and well. I'll try and explain England when I get home, but I can't make you any promises. At the moment, I need money and my passport, and I'd appreciate it if you opened the charge accounts at the usual places."
"Okay, wait a minute…" James made a half-laughing grunt. "How the hell did you get into England without your passport? And for that matter, why have you traveled without money for an entire week? Why would you? All you had to do was pick up the damn phone." He interrupted himself. "Wait. I know. It's a long story, right?" Jim sighed into the silence on the other end of the line. "Fine. Consider it FedEx'd by nine a.m. my time. I'll have the money and accounts opened by the time you hang up. Are you at least going to be home in time to do a few more run-throughs of our next gig?"
"I always am. Thanks for your help, partner. I could never survive without you."
"Yeah. Uh…Kes…one more thing?"
"Did we get paid before the deal went sour?"
Kestra's breath hitched tellingly in her throat. She slapped herself in the forehead and made a little sound of frustration. "I knew I was forgetting something."
Noah entered his bedroom from the bath. He ran a towel absently over his hair as he crossed to the large wardrobe situated on the left side of the bed where Kestra had slept off his siphoning of her energy. The Demon King withdrew soft kid breeches from the wardrobe, as well as hunting boots and a simple, loose-sleeved silk shirt.
He thought about her as incessantly as ever as he dressed. More than that, even, because he was unable to help his distinct worry over her dangerous position as she ran around in the world without him. What was more, it had finally occurred to him to really wonder what in hell had been going on in her life that had put her on the other end of a hot pistol in the first place. Never mind the potential danger to her health because of their separation; what dangers were out there that had nothing to do with him?
He was worried. It weighted his heart in his chest, this dreadful fear that he hadn't done the right thing. It was bad enough he hadn't taken her from that time and place before she'd been killed the first time around. Had he thrown her back in search of a freedom that would only get her killed once again? And this time, there would be no way of fixing it. This time, after having begun the process of tying her to him and himself to her, he wouldn't be able to bear going on without her. He would already be emotionally incapable. Perhaps he had been for months.
Noah had to turn his thoughts away from that for the moment. In spite of having fetched her and brought her to him, as the Samhain moon approached, he was still in a fragile state of mind. He couldn't help it. In spite of having regained a modicum of control otherwise, he couldn't see straight when he thought about her vulnerability. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to retrieve her and demand she stay by his side for all time. Which, in all honesty, was what he was supposed to be doing. She wasn't even aware that he was being generous with his gift of freedom.
Noah knew he was merely perpetuating an illusion to try to ease the shock of what was going to happen.
Noah sighed heavily as he finally sat down in the chair that he'd held watch in as she'd slept. He rested his boots beside his feet and leaned back, rubbing at his weary eyes. He could replenish his energy again and again if he wanted to, a blessing of his power that had allowed him to avoid sleep for long periods of time in the past, even when faced with the lethargy the sun induced in his kind. However, there was no true substitute for the repairing comfort of sleep. The body healed and recovered from the long night's exertions when it slept, cycling away toxins and other by-products of an active lifestyle while rest and dreams soothed the psyche.
In all honesty, though, he was afraid of dreaming.
She was so close now.
Would his dreams be stronger, more powerful than ever before? Even more irresistible and tormenting? He'd barely survived those endless nights of imagined pleasure and completion, waking every single evening with it all suddenly out of his reach, falsely played, but remembered by his aching body and desperately pounding heart. In a way, he'd made love to her over and over again already, and yet he was now farther away from her than if they were total strangers.
Were they strangers, or were they lovers? What did she think and feel when she looked at him? Was it anything like the struggle he was currently suffering? If so, how could he even begin to go about easing her way, without allowing his own selfish needs to get in the way?
It was impossible. Especially as the moon waxed and the sacred holiday approached. The Demon King would be unable to resist the need to be with her, in her bed, and inside her body, which had been so perfectly designed for his. The hunger and the draw of her was an instinct of the ages, and no one dared try to circumvent it; those who had were never successful. With the full moon four nights away, Noah knew he had to find a way. He had only one chance to make her understand her future in a way that would make it a blessing instead of an entrapment. He would sacrifice anything to make that happen.
The Demon King lurched impatiently out of the chair, pacing the floor with his hands locked tightly onto his hips. It took a third wide circuit of frustration before he heard the knock at his door.
"I do not wish to be disturbed!" he barked to whoever was on the opposite side.
"My lord, your guest has returned," was the tentative response.
Noah stopped dead in his tracks.
"Seclude her, John, in one of the private parlors. I will be there in a moment."
Why was she back?
Apparently that detail didn't matter to the rest of him. His entire body was quickening with elation and the need to lay eyes on her again. It had only been half a day since she'd left, and already it seemed like half a year.
Noah went to retrieve his boots.
Kestra paced the room with great impatience. She'd decided to take the direct approach and ask her former host if he'd taken her money before whisking her off to England. It wasn't likely he even knew what was in her purse, unless he'd gone looking for identification. It was also possible that he hadn't even bothered to pick the purse up. He'd pointed out that she lacked ID earlier. Since she didn't carry identification under those iffy kinds of circumstances, it could go either way. Her first choice was to swallow her pride and ask. It didn't seem like he needed to steal money from her, when the sheer size and opulence of his holdings were taken into account, but to some, money was money no matter how much they had.
This way she could take his measure eye to eye. If she suspected he was lying, she would come back later and try a more stealthy approach. It wasn't the favorable choice, considering the volume of people that moved about the castle and the fact that she knew nothing of the floor plan outside of what she'd already seen. No backup, none of James's little toy technologies to help guide her. But it wouldn't be the first time she'd slunk around foreign rooms and been successful. Frankly, given her level of edginess recently, it might be fun to try and pull something over on the arrogant bastard.
Kestra turned sharply when the door opened behind her.
She'd seen a great many people and places in her lifetime, so she couldn't understand why he looked so remarkable and vital to her as he shut the door and crossed the room toward her. His clothing was so simple, clean and crisp but cut incredibly close to his body. It looked like he was about to go riding. The only thing missing from his ensemble was a riding crop and coat. Again he wore the black and tan boots of a master of the hunt, which told her he was an excellent horseman and probably hunted for sport. It was a common English pastime, even though he himself was clearly not native to England.
It was rare for her to find herself in the company of men greatly taller than herself. He had to be well over six feet in height because he made her feel smaller than usual. It probably didn't help that she'd already tried to take him down once and had had about as much luck as she would fighting a cinder block wall.
If it came right down to it, she had to admit none of that was what made her heart quicken with trepidation and the sudden urge to run for the hills. In spite of everything else, Noah was one hundred percent magnetic. Electromagnetic, and fully charged at that. Kestra was afraid that if she didn't acknowledge his potency as a male, it would give him some kind of power over her. But how could she do that and still deny the way she felt herself respond to that potency? She couldn't even hope that he was ignorant of it. Not if they truly had met in all of those heated, volatile dreams.
What was more, it seemed this time was even more powerful than any other, her entire being humming with attraction. She turned her focus inward as he neared, making a very conscious effort to keep her breathing even and her attitude strictly businesslike.
"I'm sorry to bother you," she said, hoping that her cold address would bring him to a stop right where he was.
"It is no bother to welcome your company, Kestra. Though I admit I am surprised to see you here again so quickly. I had the impression you wished to be as far away from here as you could possibly manage."
"Actually, I have a matter of business I wanted to attend to with you."
He lifted a single dark brow in surprise and clear curiosity.
"I have more than enough business partners, Kestra. I am not interested in acquiring any others."
"The last thing I want is a partnership with you," she retorted. "My purse was on the floor of the suite. Did you happen to retrieve it?"
Is that all?
Noah couldn't answer right away. He was too busy fighting off a very volatile wash of temper. He clenched his teeth together as he tried to control a rash of temperamental impulses. He usually had a far better rein over the infamous passions of a Fire Demon, but his disappointment over her motivations for returning triggered it like very few things could. Of course he hadn't expected it to be that easy. He was a monarch, and as such expected things to take time and finesse to come about. However, it seemed as though rational thought didn't tarry long when it came to Kestra.
Just walking in the door and seeing her standing in his home had made a whole new impact, as if it hadn't happened once already. Her hair was loose now, long and full of that sheen of white that fairly sparkled. She'd changed from the designer dress and pearls he'd found her in, trading them in for a teal minidress without a single touch of decoration. It was a short-sleeved tube of Lycra that began slightly off her shoulders and ended just above mid-thigh, clinging to every lush curve like a second skin. As a result, she appeared to be little more than a very long pair of legs fitted into ridiculously high stiletto heels. Yet she was perfectly balanced and clearly in control of every fit muscle of her body. All of which were apparent to even the quickest brush of a gaze, right down to smooth, tanned legs she didn't bother to cover with hosiery.
Kestra felt her throat go tight and her mouth dry up as she registered the ominous gray clouding in his jade pupils. He wasn't showing it in his expression, or even in the relaxed pose of his body as he stood before her, but she was convinced that he was seething with emotion. Anger? Hostility? She couldn't be sure, but it was there. Every instinct in her body demanded that she acknowledge it, and demanded that she understand how truly dangerous this man was.
"No," he responded at last, his tone more dead than neutral. "I was more concerned with your safety at the time."
She believed him. Then again, she had figured as much to begin with. That meant the cops had her money, which meant they had Jim's money. Not to mention her weapon and her fingerprints. She would be splashed over Interpol and FBI bulletin boards already. That would make her exit out of England a little more difficult.
"Thank you. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"It was no bother," he murmured, narrowing his eyes on her thoughtfully as she moved to brush past him. "I do not suppose you would like to tell me why you were caught in the middle of the situation I found you in, would you?"
Kestra turned and faced him, barely a foot away from him.
"I don't suppose you would want to tell me how you found me in the middle of that situation, would you?" she countered.
"It is as I said. I came looking for you."
"Now you do sound like a cop. Or a private detective." She made the accusation with a narrowing of her crystalline blue eyes.
"Why? Do you often have problems with cops and detectives?"
"Right. Like I would tell you if I did?"
"I can hope," he said very simply. "I am curious about this woman I find myself involved with."
"Involved?" She barked a short, disbelieving laugh. "We are not, nor will we ever be, involved. What goes on in my life is my business, not yours or anyone else's. After I walk out that door, I will be doing my level best never to set eyes on you again."
"I am afraid that will be impossible."
His tone was more matter-of-fact than it was ominous, but for some reason, it was far more threatening to her because of it. He seemed so sure. Confident, yes, but not with the arrogance she'd attributed to him earlier. Kestra realized then that she'd been mistaken in that assessment. Arrogance implied a certain level of callousness and selfishness. What she suddenly was feeling from him had nothing to do with those traits.