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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Stay," he commanded her sternly, as if she were a puppy. Since she felt no stronger than a puppy, she couldn't argue with him. She just held her drink and tried to figure out how to get the little plastic top off it as she watched him cross to the bathroom.
He seemed so big compared to everything, especially as he stormed around with such knowing efficiency. She had a direct line of sight into the bathroom and she watched as he pulled a stack of fresh towels down from a shelf. Then he sat on the dressing bench of the vanity and disposed of his boots. Kes had to snicker when water poured onto the tiled floor. He glanced her way, jade flashing from beneath long dark lashes, the chiding look meant to be a scolding of some kind. But Kestra saw the humor etched around his lips and those fine creases at the corners of his eyes. She had been right. It was natural for him to smile a lot.
Her answering smile faded when he stood up and stripped off his belt. Noah turned his back toward her, but she realized it wasn't because he put any thought into it. He stripped off his pants and stood naked and powerful and hellishly male. There were those powerful legs and thighs that he had used to bear their combined weight against the parlor wall. When God had handed out sinew and muscle, he had taken special care in sculpting Noah. To top it off, Noah had the finest-looking backside she'd ever seen. The angle of his stance changed and she caught the shiver in her own breathing that had nothing to do with feeling sick. There was a difference between feeling something and seeing something, she realized as she stared at his hefty penis. Cold water notwithstanding, he was mighty impressive. She absently licked her lips as Noah reached for a towel and wrapped it tight around his hips.
It wasn't until she exhaled that Kestra realized she had sucked in an excited breath and had held it. She couldn't reprimand herself for it, either. He was sinfully gorgeous, built like a god, and even tanned perfectly from head to toe. Tall, dark, and ultradangerous. Delightfully dangerous.
She closed her eyes as he turned to approach her, his arms laden with towels. He dropped them on the bed with a plop and reached to tap her on the nose.
"Open your mouth."
While you are standing thigh level to the bed in nothing but a towel?
Her eyes flew open. She laughed a little shakily when she saw he held a thermometer in his hand. She obeyed his command and let him take her temperature. He was lucky she felt like crap physically, because otherwise she would never have stood for all this bossing around and whole lying-around-like-a-wilting-flower routine.
Her mind was still sharp as a damned tack, though, wasn't it? Her imagination was definitely in working order. Oh, and no need to worry about her newfound libido. It was doing quite fine.
Noah found himself smiling. He couldn't read her thoughts yet, but her eyes were more than expressive enough. Her wryness and consternation, accented by an impressive bottom-lipped pout around the little glass stick of a thermometer, made her feelings very clear. She didn't like being helpless in front of him. She would be more determined than ever to prove her ability to control her world after finding herself weak before him. But that would be then, and this was now.
He drew back the quilt and grabbed up a towel. Starting with her legs, he began to dry her briskly. He saw the painful arching in her feet and immediately understood what she wasn't telling him. He let it go for the moment and continued to dry her skin. It wasn't until he reached the area of her hips that she gasped around the thermometer and her hands reached haltingly for his wrists. They were just as cramped as her feet, so it was hardly a detriment.
"Kes, I am not here to hurt you," he said in a soft, reassuring tone that washed over her. He put all of the passion of his intention to keep her safe in his voice, and she could not help but feel it. "I would never hurt you. I would never treat you with disrespect. I want you to believe that."
She relaxed visibly once more, but she closed her eyes as he dried the moisture from her hips and bottom, from between her thighs, her snow-white curls and the dip of her navel, and up her belly and back. He was so incredibly gentle and meticulous, as if he was determined to snare every drop of water.
In spite of her headache and the rest, Kestra was rather breathless by the time he finished with her body, the most intense moment being when he had encircled her upper thigh with his strong fingers, drawing her leg up against his side and tilting her knee outward so he could expose her for his attentions. The brush of the towel had been a dizzying sensation, but nothing compared to the accidental brush of his knuckles against a wetness that was not entirely from the pool.
Having finished drying her, ignorant of how easily he was affecting her, he caught up a fresh towel and raised her head so he could wrap it around her hair. Once the wet mass was contained, he dragged a fresh, dry pillow beneath her head and found a light sheet to cover the middle of her body with. The cotton was crisp and cool, allowing for any excess heat to leave her body, but keeping the chill off.
Noah checked the temperature of her body by sight alone. The thermometer was strictly for her benefit. She frowned when she looked at it.
"It could be much worse. You are very lucky that I am a persistent man," he told her quietly. There was an edge to the remark and she felt it keenly. There was regret and irony for him in the statement. It surprised Kestra that she felt she was getting very good at reading him. She usually missed those little nuances about people that allowed ease of understanding and building blocks that led to forming friendships. Usually when she looked at individuals she saw threats. She saw only their potential to harm or be dangerous, and once that evaluation was made, the other subtleties never seemed to matter. Noah was different somehow. In him she was seeing more. She was taking the time to stop and do a further observation for some reason, even though she knew he was hazardous to her general welfare. Did that make him different, or did it just make her very, very stupid?
He was extremely straightforward, but it was very clear that it was a selective honesty. She would get certain information from him if and only if she asked the right question. He had a code of honor, one she had seen in brief but powerful glimpses. Certainly enough to impress her. He was tough as well as gentle. Wildly confident enough to ravish a stubborn woman to within an inch of her life; determined enough to chase after her when said woman ran away like a chicken. Or rather an ostrich. However, her head was coming out of the sand. Making herself hate him wouldn't change her attraction to him. Neither would denial of it. No matter how much she wanted to quash it, it was what it was and it most certainly wasn't going away any time soon.
She wondered what he did for a living. How had he earned his money? He didn't strike her as a spoiled heir, and it was clear that his household in general held him in enormous esteem. Now that she thought about it, there were a few things that had happened that were a little-
"Hey," he said suddenly, drawing her attention. He bent over her, looking straight down into her eyes. "Stop the merry-go-round," he advised, tapping a soft fingertip to her temple. "I know you must have a hell of a headache. All you should be doing is sipping your drink, closing your eyes, and not thinking about a thousand things you cannot possibly do anything about at the moment."
Again, he was right. It was an annoying habit, but his wisdom had its charms as well. She did what he said, relaxing and not thinking, even when he picked up her foot and began to massage the fiercely cramping muscles.
"Rest," he encouraged her, the low timbre of his voice rich and soothing. "Let your body heal. Tomorrow is another day. You have plenty of time to yell at me, be cranky, and hate me. Tonight just rest."
"I don't hate you," she argued softly, toying halfheartedly with her drink bottle.
"Well, that is nice to know," he said. He tried to sound neutral about it, but she could tell he was pleased and amused.
She was pleased, too. His hands on her feet worked like magic. Within minutes the muscles released, a pleasant tingle left in the wake of his fingertips and palms. He slid his broad hands up her calves and she could tell he was checking for cramps there. Then he took up the hand nearest to him and gently rubbed his thumb into the palm of it. It was a soft, circular motion, and that tingle started again, like the littlest sparks of electrical current. Warmth spread over her hand as he slid his fingers over hers, weaving their hands together and using the free one to continue the massage. Kes watched him very carefully, watched as he studied her hand with an almost singular amount of attention. It could be that he was looking for the best way to ease her cramps, but she didn't think so. If she had to venture a guess, she'd say he was memorizing her.
Noah traced every finger, every fingerprint, the whorls and swirls on her skin fascinating to him. She had calluses on every possible point of contact, even some unusual ones in between her knuckles themselves, though they were not as thick as the others. Her hands were those of someone who worked hard, but they had the elegance of someone trained to hold her hands in a specific way. Posed. Poised. He turned her hand over and looked at her wrist. He could see her pulse beating, but he also saw an incongruity. He almost missed it, but when he looked a moment longer, he saw the small tattoo of a dancer in silhouette. It was done in a soft tannish pink, and it almost blended in with her skin. But it was clear she wore it with a great deal of pride.
"Cyd Charisse." She said it before she realized it, her sleepy eyes opening to meet his curious gaze. "She was a dancer during the time of MGM musicals. She was told she was too tall…but she wasn't. She was the most beautiful dancer I had ever seen. The silhouette is of her."
"A role model for a tall girl who wanted to dance," he said, looking at her beautiful face with suddenly understanding eyes.
"I wanted to do it all. Dance, gymnastics, anything I could try. Except basketball. Everyone wants to stick you in basketball when you're tall." She rolled her eyes with her honest exasperation. "I wanted ballet. Floor exercises. Rock climbing. Kickboxing. Yoga."
"And I am willing to bet you got every last one of them."
"Yeah," she said, clearly victorious. "Still learning new stuff all the time. Last year it was bungee jumping. This year…" She shrugged. "Who knows? I haven't decided."
"I am sure something will come up," he said.
And she knew immediately that there was something veiled behind the seemingly innocent remark. She was too tired to really inspect it, though, so she let it go for the moment.
"Is this your only tattoo?" he asked.
"Yes. You can hardly see this one. Other than that I have no identifying marks."
Noah didn't react, but he found that to be an intriguing way for her to have put it. He filed it away. This was the most he'd learned about her outside of sexual knowledge. Even so, he felt as though he needed to know her better. He wanted more. Craved more. Both body and soul.
"You have a scar. You have a lot of scars." She reached up to point to two of them, touching the spots on his left upper arm and shoulder where iron nails had been shot through his body in battle. Her fingertips skimmed down his chest to the third scar on his ribs, then the fourth on his side just above his hip. He tried not to be stirred by her touch, but the brush of her hand was so soft and so clearly sensual, he was fighting a losing battle. The rush of blood heading between his hips had no conscience at all when it came to her. "The worst one is on your back." She slid her hand around his side and touched the ridges of the evil scar left by an iron dagger that had been dragged through his flesh. As she did this, she leaned low and close, her breasts brushing over his belly, the rigid tips drawing a teasing pair of lines over his taut skin. He took a deep breath as he felt the demands of his completely flushed body surging up beneath his towel.
"You are very observant," he murmured, reaching around to take her hand from his burning skin, settling it gently between his palms for a moment as she finally settled back onto her pillow.
He noticed that she didn't ask how he had gotten his badges of battle.
"You have two scars." He returned to her, reaching to slide the cotton sheet all the way up her leg. She had a long white line, about five inches long, down the back of her thigh. "One…" he counted, running brief fingers over the ridge of it. Then he hesitated before resting his hand low on her belly where the second scar lay beneath the sheet. He actually expected the hand that clasped his defensively. "Two," he finished, respecting her feelings and not tracing the white scar slashed horizontally just above her pubic bone.
She looked at him with wide, vulnerable eyes for a long minute.
"No one ever notices that one." She sounded like she didn't know whether to be impressed or upset. Perhaps she was a little bit of both. Noah knew she expected him to ask questions, but that wasn't in the rules of the game. She'd set that boundary clearly enough, and he would respect it.
He slid his hand out from beneath hers, bringing it back to the first spot he had pointed out, his fingers absently tracing the jagged texture of it.
"I know someone who has a blade scar that runs from the back of his skull to almost the small of his back."
"Really?" She was practically envious and Noah suppressed the urge to chuckle. "How did that happen?"
"Someone jumped him from behind with a sword."
"A sword? Who runs around with a sword?"
"A madman. My friend was lucky to survive."
"I can imagine." She took notification of the act of violence in stride, though. It was clear neither one of them was a stranger to it. "I know someone who got their throat cut ear to ear. Walking around with the scar to this day."