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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Noah, meanwhile, was struck with the overwhelming sensation that he had done everything wrong. It was a stark understanding and it filled him with fear like very few things could. Hadn't he read that fairy tale dozens of times over the years to the children in his family and others? The words in Sarah's mind when she had realized she was Imprinted upon a man she very nearly despised began to echo in his brain.
She could keep her heart from him.
Lovers but strangers. Forever.
All she had to do was put her mind to it, walling off her emotions. It was rare, but not unheard of. In those rare cases, it led to a perverse kind of insanity, a fate worse than death. Especially if one partner fell in love and the other one did not.
Kestra felt his fingers encircling her arm, dragging her up to her feet roughly and spinning her into his body as if they'd never stepped away from each other in the first place. The reflexive sensation of coming home as she settled against him made her angry, frustrated over her body's misbehavior when she'd spent all of her life fine-tuning it as a weapon under her complete control. She reacted by bracing her hands against his chest and pushing hard away from him.
Noah didn't let her go this time, using his significant strength against her. What was more, he was able to do it with a single arm around her waist, allowing his free hand to come up and push back her hair, baring her ear to his close, heated whisper.
"I do not know what you think to accomplish, but I can assure you that you will never be able to escape me just by leaving my home. I have been inside you, Kikilia. Not only today, but for months. Our hearts have thrummed to the beat of this chemistry between us for so long now. Do you really think distance will work any better now than it did all the while you were an ocean away?"
Kestra opened her mouth, but his audacity left her speechless. Worse, the potential truths of his suppositions were terrifying. However, he didn't know her quite so well as he thought he did, she thought as a familiar flush of very explicit excitement coursed through her. It was a reaction that she recognized all too well.
He had just given her a challenge. What was more, it was a deadly one. She knew it as sure as she knew how to wire listening devices for sound. He was dangerous, she admitted to herself. She had probably known this from the outset, and it was probably why she had felt such an overwhelming attraction toward him.
Let him build his better mousetrap, she thought to herself with almost wicked confidence and satisfaction. There isn't a cage made by man that can hold me.
Kestra lowered her chin, flicking up her snow-white lashes until he could very clearly see the danger in her eyes and the gentle tilt of her suddenly smiling lips.
"Would you like to make book on that?" she murmured, flicking her blue diamond gaze down the length of his entire body, clearly taking his measure and just as obviously finding herself unthreatened.
She wasn't expecting the feral smile he sent her in return, though.
"I have all the money and time in the world to make good on that bet, Kikilia," he whispered. "Whether you know it or not, you need me now. You will always need me."
Kestra laughed, hard and harsh, a derisive sound that would have cowed any normal man. She was already beginning to realize that he was no normal man, so she didn't underestimate him in that way.
"Listen," she said quietly, "you can threaten and cajole all you like, you can even seduce me until the cows come home and we are both exhausted from it, but you will never, ever own me. Unless you have something better than idle threats, my mind will always remain my own, and so will my life. There is nothing you can do to change that. Now let go of me or I swear-"
"I already have changed it, although I would never want to change the honest essence of who you are. I am not who you think I am, Kestra."
"I don't think anything. I don't care who you are. You're as much a stranger to me as you ever were! You're rich? Well, so am I. You're strong and clearly have power? You haven't even scratched the surface of my strength and my power. I don't care how many little tarts come traipsing in here calling you my lord or whatever it is that gets you off, because I don't impress that easily. Don't challenge me. You'll regret it. Now let me go!"
Noah finally did so, clearly more suddenly than she expected because she stumbled backward in her abrupt freedom.
"Kestra, you have no idea what you are going to do to yourself if you leave."
She laughed, a snorting sound of disbelief.
"My God, you are on a trip, aren't you? I survived just fine without you all these years, and I will damn well do it again. You were an itch, Noah, and you have just been scratched. So, it's been swell, but I really must be going."
Her haughty sarcasm was a practiced art, and she used it too well. His fingers curled into tight fists as she turned surely on her heel and marched out of the parlor with a hearty slam of the door. It took everything within him to control the surge of his temper, to keep his feet planted firmly on the floor and not tag after her like a schoolboy with a sick crush on the head cheerleader. He could have shown her the meaning of the word power, could have sucked her into his world with a heartbeat and a whirlwind of smoke and ashes. Hell, he could have blown up an entire country just to show her what she was enmeshed in whether she liked it or not.
But that was purely his infamous temper talking. He could no more harm an innocent than…
Noah shook out his fisted hands and exhaled harshly. He had already harmed innocents in his quest for her. The memory of Bella's outrage bit as sharply as the recollection of her slap against his face did. Would Kestra ever know the price he had been willing to pay just to save her life? Did he have the cold heart it would take to throw that knowledge up in her face?
Patience, he told himself, using the word like a mantra to soothe his sparking temper. Patience. Time was on his side. He hadn't been lying about that. However, if he were to take advantage of it, she would pay a heavy price. All he had to do was wait, give it three, maybe four days. Then she would understand what it would mean to be without him. She would only grow weaker, sicker, eventually facing no future but her own death, unless she returned to him.
And he couldn't bear the idea of it.
He had to find a better way.
The Miserable Princess
A Demon Fairy Tale
Ariel made good his promise.
Sarah sat watching contemptuously as he defeated one opponent after another in the exhausting games. She was convinced he was somehow cheating, especially when he was able to best the Warrior Captain himself, the most skilled of all fighter Demons. Maybe it was because he was an Enforcer. He cast a cloak of dread in front of himself just by entering the area. He probably had every last one of them shaking in their boots and they were letting him win in some hope that if he caught up with them on a Hallowed night transgressing, he might be kinder to them. But there was no kindness in him. Sarah did not care if he was only doing his job, a job appointed and respected by her very own father. Even her father would blanch at the idea of having the Enforcer for a son-in-law.
He was going to win, and she could see it coming. Sarah refused to simply sit there like a lamb to the slaughter. She did not care that she was required to spend supper feast with the winner as the reward for the night's games. She did not care that her absence would embarrass her father and the Enforcer, perhaps even infuriating them both. She stood up and walked away at the first opportunity of her father's distracted attention.
She ran to the stables.
She was mounted and fleeing on her fastest and favorite steed within heartbeats. She did not even change or use a lady's saddle, yanking up her skirts and sitting astride like a man so she could get the speed she wanted and that the beast beneath her deserved. She was like a wraith in the night, her slim, beautiful body and fair hair catching the glow of the moonlight, the silk and chiffon of her gown streaming colors behind her like a standard. Mile after mile peeled away beneath the horse's hooves, and the thunderous cadence pounded joyfully through her body. She no longer belonged to the Demon world and all of its traditions, all of its expectations. She was free. She could breathe. There was no future looming with suffocating imprisonment to a man everyone despised.
And then, as if summoned by the thought, the Enforcer materialized out of the nighttime mists, becoming solid right in the path of the racing horse. The animal lurched to a halt with all of its power, its intention to rear back in terror, but before that happened, Sarah was thrown forward over the animal's head, reins falling helplessly from her hands as she became airborne. She would have plowed into the Enforcer, something she would have at least found momentarily satisfying, but the coward dematerialized. But then she was being caught by a heavy cushion of thickening fog and moisture, the sensation soft and gentle as she slowed to a stop.
In a heartbeat, she found herself cradled in the arms of the Enforcer, her heart pounding as though it would burst her chest. Half of the feeling was from fear of her fall, but half was from fear of how flushed with excitement she became when those cool eyes fell on her. His need of her was naked within them. It was an incredible feeling to know that she was what the man who was most feared, most powerful in their world, now wanted. It did not matter that she was a Princess. She had been born to that, had not earned any merit that might come with it. But he was born to be the Enforcer, and had also proven himself for centuries as the one rightfully deserving of the role, although there were other choices from amongst his line who could have vied for the duty.
She struggled to be free of his hold, and Ariel let her go, placing her feet on the ground and letting her try again to put a great distance between them, though in fact it was only a few steps.
"Come, come," he taunted her softly, "all is fair here. You must maintain your part of this bargain."
"I made no bargain!" she cried out in defiance. "I was put up like a mare to be bred, and no one asked me my permission!"
"I am not here for a mare, although breeding has its place somewhere in the things I would like. I want you, Sarah, and all your possibilities. I knew for decades that you were waiting to be claimed by me, but I forced myself to give you time to live, to grow, and to become whatever it was you wished to become. I watched you flourish with beauty and a personality of such light and kindness that it awes me when I think you will shine upon me."
"No! I never saw you!"
"I never touched you, either," he said, his voice like soft clouds in a summer sky. "Until today. Your father was torturing you with his efforts to push you onto others, and I could not let it continue. Though I must say, it brought out that fire in your temper I find so intriguing."
Sarah's hand went to her throat in an age-old feminine gesture of defense, broadcasting her fear and vulnerability. She saw the truth in all he said. Ariel had stood by and left her to grow, given her space that even her own father had refused to give her. How must it have been for him to let her be free, knowing all along that she was destined to be in his arms? She had lived in blissful ignorance, but Ariel had known for a long time-decades, he had said-and he had waited. Stood by and watched. So many days, so many years in such close service to the King, there in the Council rooms every day, rooms she walked through. Feasts and celebrations.
Samhain and Beltane.
Sarah's eyes widened with horror, as she suddenly realized what torment he must have suffered every single Hallowed moon, forced to do his duty, forced to hang on to his sanity, temptation just a breath away, satisfaction just a touch away.
His sacrifice touched her like nothing else in the world could have.
By the time Noah had composed himself, both physically and mentally, he knew Kestra had long since exited his household. He could still feel the powerful trail of her energy as he followed it out of the parlor and into the Great Hall, in search of another woman who seemed to have it stamped on her to-do list to give him grief. He was beginning to lose count of how many women he had rubbed the wrong way in just the past twenty-four hours. The Demon King figured taking Jasmine to task would probably add her to that growing list.
He stepped into the Great Hall and stopped short with justifiable surprise. Jasmine was holding court with about a half dozen Demon males, their hands and attention on various parts of her slim body as she flirted shamelessly with them. She was thriving on the attention the Demons were giving her in abundance, a generosity fueled by the conditions of the night and the ripening moon.
Since she was a Nightwalker, Jasmine was considered more than fair game nowadays. He could not possibly voice any form of complaint, even if he could form a logical reason for one. It was better that their attention was falling onto her. It would at least keep one or two of them out of the Enforcers' paths, should she decide to fulfill any of the flirtatious promises she was clearly making with every inch of her highly sensual body.
The trouble was, he was pretty sure that Jasmine was an extremely prejudiced creature and that she would consider playing outside of her species to be beneath her.
Jasmine turned her head, looking unconcerned as she faced the very obvious disapproval of the Demon King. She gave him a disarming smile, standing up from her chair as he walked toward her. If he were a thundercloud, she mused as she watched his approach, he could have belched a bolt of lightning right at her head. He certainly was able to clear the room with merely his approach and expression, the other Demons leaving them alone with all speed.
"Good evening, Noah. It is good to see you. I have a message from Damien," she said, as if nothing at all was due her by way of reprimand. She was cordial and matter-of-fact, returning to sit with casual ease before his hearth and looking completely at home.