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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"'Do you really think distance will work any better now than it did all the while you were an ocean away?'" she mimicked, making him sound even haughtier. "Well, it's working now, pal!"
Kestra beat the hell out of the bag. When she was exhausted and dripping with sweat, she stripped off her gloves and dropped heavily to the mats. She did not usually tire this easily, so she had to admit that maybe she had been out of commission for a week. It was the only explanation.
She got up, dragging her bottle of juice with her as she shuffled back to the shower. She stripped off sweat-drenched clothes with the remainder of her strength and turned on the taps so water spewed from three different directions to bathe her in relieving heat. She closed her eyes as she leaned against the wall with stiff, bracing arms. The water was brutally hot, but it felt divine, and this even though she had inexplicably gotten a sunburn on certain body parts when she hadn't been paying attention. Her palms, thighs, breasts…all toasted red. Still, it was fading fast and didn't hurt.
If she weren't afraid of falling asleep, she would take advantage of the sauna. But being alone and tired, it was dangerous. So the shower would do. The worst she could get here was pruned toes. Meanwhile, the water struck her no matter where she turned; steam filled her lungs, making every breath heavy. Heat soaked into every pore and she felt as though she craved more. She closed her eyes and shut off the cold water entirely. Kestra gasped at the burn, but then moaned with pleased relief a heartbeat later. If she could fall asleep right there in that scalding waterfall, she would have been delighted to do so.
"You look tired."
Noah looked away from the steady crackle of the fire and glanced at her.
"I am," he agreed, knowing it would be useless to fib to a Mind Demon, not to mention an astute sister.
"You need to sleep, to replenish your energy properly. What's more, you need to fetch Kestra back here and start telling her-"
Legna broke off when Noah turned back to look into his fire, making an obscure sound of agreement that plainly had no connection to what she was saying.
"But you aren't, are you, Noah?"
"What?" he asked impatiently.
"Sleeping! You are not sleeping."
"Magdelegna," he said in the warning, elder-brother tone she knew all too well.
"Do not 'Magdelegna' me," she huffed. "I can understand if you do not wish to discuss this with me, but do me the courtesy of acknowledging I am right and that something is disturbing you."
"Of course it is, Legna! My mate is running away from me at top speed, quite possibly into some other situation where someone will blow a bullet through her little blond head!" he snapped at her. "You are damn right it disturbs me!"
"I meant your ability to sleep, Noah. Disturbing your ability to sleep," she said quietly in the face of his explosive outburst.
Noah caught himself at once. He held out a hand to her in apology, which she took readily. There was nothing he could do to someone as loving as his sister was that would not be forgiven, and for that he was eternally grateful. He was surrounded by such women, and it would be his saving grace, he knew.
"I apologize. My temper…"
"Is short because you are exhausted," she said with soft urgency as she quickly moved to kneel by his chair, enfolding his hand between hers. "You can only process energy from outside sources for so long. What is worse, Kestra needs your energy. Pure, healthy energy. She needs you and I know you need her. Noah, I do not understand this. You let her go freely and then you do not pursue. She will become sick, yet it makes you sick to think of it. You will not sleep-"
"Are you mad, Legna? Sleep?" He laughed so bitterly it made tears come to her eyes. This was not her lighthearted, contented brother, and it struck at her soul to see him thus. "She is too close to me. It was hard enough when she was an ocean away, but now that she is in my blood, her scent all over my body, and physically within my reach…" He shook his head, his speechlessness making more of an impact on her.
"My heart." She murmured the endearment sympathetically, running gentle, elegant fingers through his hair. "What can I do?"
"Legna, I do not wish to discuss this anymore."
Magdelegna knew her brother well enough after two and a half centuries of her life to know when he could no longer be drawn out. She stood up and away from him, her heart beating in a rapid, worried tattoo.
Legna walked away from him, her thoughts in turmoil as she twisted one hand in the other. She had just barely stepped into the garden when a sparkling silver light burst into her path, erupting into the astral form of her husband, Gideon. He reached for her, and she stepped into his comforting embrace.
"Neliss," he whispered softly into the coffee-colored hair near her ear, the nickname soothing all on its own. Her thoughts were his. Even over thousands of miles, they shared every piece of logic and emotion as if theirs were a single mind. And because he loved her, he could never ignore the cry of her heart when it was in such clear distress.
"Where is Seth?" she asked automatically.
"Our son is in the lap of a fairly confounded Lycanthrope Queen at present."
"Of all the choices in sitters, why do you always choose her? She cannot figure out the top side of a child from the bottom."
"Siena only pretends to be terrible with children so she can excuse herself for not producing any. And it is not like you to dodge a subject," he scolded gently.
Legna looked up into her husband's tinsel eyes, their sparkling color the gift she had received when they had fully Imprinted, making her eyes the perfect mirror to his. She remembered how that had so upset Noah in the beginning, when their color had changed to no longer match the gray-green of his.
"He will not see reason. He can be so stubborn," she said with frustration. "What does he think to do? Leave her until she is sick from being without him? You saw what that did to Corrine. Bella and her sister both were able to adjust to a new and unexpected life, and so will Kestra. I think he is punishing himself, Gideon. I think he is doing this thing to himself because of what he did to get Kestra back."
"I am not arguing with that. You are a wise woman and an even wiser sister. You are seeing the truth of the matter." Gideon stroked her hair with a long, soft caress of his hand. "But I think he is also angry with himself for their first mating. Noah is very old-fashioned in his way. He had very specific ideas of how he would treat his mate should he ever be blessed with the Imprinting."
"He does not account for the pressure of the Hallowed moon and the volatility of his elemental nature!" Legna broke away from her husband's attempts to soothe her and began to pace. "We are all pressed beyond our natural behaviors now. For example, you and I are a very tender, gentle pair, yet even we get…aggressive…during the Hallowed moons."
"Tender and gentle?" Gideon threw back his silver head and laughed up at the stars, making her face flush with consternation.
"I must apologize, Neliss, because apparently I have been sleeping with a totally different woman these past couple of years than I realized." His eyes sparkled with glittery amusement. "Tender and gentle, yes, we are that, but I think I need to remind you of a few places, times, and acts that had nothing to do with Hallowed moons."
Legna's blush deepened as her mind was flooded with those memories, her husband pushing them on her to make his point. She had not realized how very good his memory of their time together was. He even remembered what she had been wearing-to start with, at least. By the time he released her mind, they were both breathing off-tempo and gazing at each other with hungry eyes of silver.
"You are trying to distract me," she said breathily as he stepped up to enfold her in his arms.
"It is nearly Samhain. Even without the Hallowed moon I want you more with every passing hour," he whispered to her. "But it is impossible to resist you when it is so close upon us."
"Gideon, you have to do something. Promise me. We must help in some way."
"Shh, hush, sweet." He soothed her, pulling her close to the warm sparkle of energy his body emanated in his current form. "I will talk to Jacob. If anyone can help, it will be him."
Jacob had known his wife for exactly three years, come Samhain.
In all of that time, Isabella had shown a remarkable adaptability when it came to his culture. She was as Demon as an outsider could get.
She faced transgressing Demons at every Hallowed moon, which pushed even the strictest moral beings into lawlessness. She was an Enforcer, and this was her duty. Bella had met every single one of them with diplomacy, softness, and compassion. She had understood. She had helped bring them back from madness with her obvious forgiveness and her lack of judgmental behaviors.
Afterward, after the punishments had been meted out, she had done what Jacob had never thought to do. She had visited each and every household, every night, for as long as it took until they all understood that she saw them the same as ever, without shame, without reservation. In her mind, their sentence was served, it was over, and she was positive, in only a way that Isabella could believe with her enormous heart, that it would never happen to those Demons again. She made sure they knew that she had faith in them.
But as tenacious as she was in those situations of kindness, Jacob realized she could be just as intractable with negative feelings. He had seen her dig in her heels before on other issues, so he was quite familiar with the signs, but he had never thought Noah would become such an issue.
She had shut Jacob out of their shared thoughts, again shocking him with her ability to do so. He had never experienced such a thing, and she had never even hinted at her ability to do this. They had been sharing every single thought, action, conversation-everything-since the moment they had first spoken in full telepathic sentences. Now there was nothing but dead air, as though half of his brain had been surgically removed. He was lost and sometimes woozy, feeling unbalanced without his other half within him. The pain was unspeakable. Isabella was deliberately trying to hurt him, and she was succeeding.
For the first time, they weren't communicating in any way. She couldn't bring herself to speak about even the most mundane of topics. She didn't speak to him, to Leah, to anyone. Not a single word, her lips pressed together as if she were afraid they would disobey her command for silence. Jacob suspected it was because she was afraid that if she started, she wouldn't stop until she had forgiven everything, and she was determined not to do so.
Jacob was not extensively worried. Bella was only so strong and only so obstinate. She could shut him out all she liked for now, denying him, denying their needs as a couple. It would last exactly two more days. Then Samhain would be upon them and it would come to a crashing halt. It wasn't the sexual intimacy that would matter to him, either. It would be the emotions she wouldn't be able to contain as she was forced to feel joy and pleasure beneath his touch. They would merely break the dam, and then the rest would come. He knew this because he knew her. She was the other half of his heart, of his spirit.
Meanwhile, he was kept busy, as always, with his duties as the moon phase increased instances of insubordination among the Demons. Isabella remained at home with their child, now unwilling to leave her with anyone they knew. She wanted no Demons near their baby, just in case something else happened. No Demons, Imprinted or otherwise.
It was irrational. Prejudiced. Disturbing.
Jacob sensed Gideon's coming even before the Ancient medic arrived in the middle of their living room with a burst of heavily displaced air from the teleport that was no doubt courtesy of his mate. Gideon never excused his entrances or what Isabella considered intrusions on her privacy, so when she looked out of the kitchen to see what the disturbance was from, the acidic glare she cast at the medic didn't faze him in any visible way. Bella quickly ducked back into her hiding place, leaving the two Demons alone while she dealt with her latest surge of disapproving emotion.
"I need to speak with you."
"At least someone does," Jacob said, rising to his feet and putting aside the book that had lain open in his lap to the same page for over half an hour. "I think it would be best if we go elsewhere."
Clearly it made no difference to Gideon. They left Jacob's home, but Gideon didn't wait long past the door before he cut to the chase, as he always did.
"I need your assistance with Noah."
Jacob exhaled deeply, reaching up to rub his temple in anticipation of the headache this was about to cause him.
"The feelings of my wife be damned, I suppose?"
"She must learn to accept things as we do if she is going to suit this culture. What is done is done, and it cannot be changed. The result is what it is, and Leah is safe. I see no reason to dwell on it."
"Isabella seems to disagree. At least I think she does. She would have to talk to me in order for me to be certain."
"How do you feel about the King keeping from his mate?"
"You mean keep Noah from Kestra?" Jacob dropped his laughing irony when he absorbed the Ancient's grim expression. "He just walked through hell and time to get her, and now he wants to keep away from her? Wait a minute. He cannot keep away from her. She will begin to starve from lack of energy. This first week is critical. He knows that."
"Mmm, one would assume so, since he is the scholar among us," Gideon mused pointedly.
"Where is she?"
"I do not think he knows."
"He does not-" Jacob was horrified. "When did he let her go? Sweet Destiny, Gideon, if anything happens to her, we will lose him! He has touched her! He has been with her. The Imprinting is done."