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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Ouch." Noah had to wince.
"Luckily, the guy who did it had watched too many movies."
"What does that mean?"
She smiled, her ice blue eyes sparkling with her knowledge.
"It means that you aren't supposed to jerk someone's head back when you slit their throat. If you pull their chin up, all the crucial structures, the veins and arteries, get pulled deeper into the neck. So you miss them. Plus, ear to ear…" She traced the path under her chin. "Worst you'll hit is the larynx."
"That is very educational," Noah remarked, his lips lifting in humor. "Perhaps tomorrow we can go over techniques for suffocation. I find those to be excellent topics to discuss with a strange man when I am all alone in the house with him."
"I'm not afraid of you," she retorted smartly, her chin lifting. "If anything, you should watch your back around me."
"If you are not afraid of me, then why did you run away?"
Noah wouldn't retain or withdraw the question. It needed asking, and he needed the answer. He watched her very carefully as she absorbed it and formulated a response.
"Okay," she breathed, absently pulling the sheet up over her breasts in a clearly armoring gesture. "I suppose that's a fair question."
"If…if my intensity frightened you, I have no excuse for it," he offered, his eyes never leaving hers as he spoke. "I know what you think of me, Kestra, but you are wrong. I was not using you, and I was not looking for another conquest. If I could do it over again…"
"It would happen the same way," she told him softly. Kestra moved to sit up slowly, drawing up to him so they were intimately close, her breath warming his face. "I know what drove you, Noah. I know it so very well because it drove me, too. After all those months of empty promises, I'm amazed it didn't happen in your bedroom the minute I woke up. We're only human, and what human being doesn't want to fulfill his or her fantasies at least once? I'm sorry I was so bitchy. I'm frankly impressed that you ignored the queen bitch and came after me. I acted like it was nothing, like I'd used you and that it was easy for me to walk away. I can be very nasty like that, and I'm not going to promise it isn't going to happen again, because I assure you it will."
"No doubt," he chuckled. "But I can also understand why you were so upset. I have a way of coming on very strong in certain situations. I could not…I was not very considerate."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," she said, a blond brow lifting teasingly as she smiled.
Noah was bemused and baffled, and it came through in his laugh.
"You know, after the other day, I had visions of your wanting to beat the hell out of me. I was not expecting candor, or any latitude for that matter."
"Well." Kes smiled to herself as she recalled her session with her punching bag. "I had some time to think and work out my emotions." She hedged. "And I'm feeling mellow because you saved my life again. Plus you made my cramps and headache go away. Well, mostly."
"That's the liquids and being out of the heat," he told her, amusement shining in his smoky eyes. He reached for the nape of her neck, his fingers sliding over it until he found tension. He gently began to massage as he had done for her hands, and again she felt warmth and magic flooding her like a powerful balm. She sighed contentedly, not caring about vulnerability as she let her head drop forward. He continued the massage until she swayed and caught herself, looking up at him with sleepy eyes.
"Is it safe to sleep?" she asked.
"Yes. I will watch over you and wake you in an hour to get more fluids into you." Noah glanced around to see the enormous windows and their potential sun exposure. She would be safe, but as exhausted as he was, the direct touch of the sun could render him comatose. "I am going to cover these windows so you do not get any sun or heat on you. That would be contraindicated for heat exhaustion. You know, you are very lucky you did not have a stroke."
"I think I did have a stroke." She yawned and lay back, snuggling into the bedding. "Otherwise, I probably would have beaten you up by now, instead of being nice. I'm never nice."
"Well, then you will pardon me if I do not run to get the doctor to fix you."
"Mmm, just wait till I'm feeling better."
"I will await it with bated breath, Kikilia."
"I told you not to call me that."
"Yes. I am ignoring you. Now go to sleep."
Jacob had done some pretty daunting things in his lifetime, even surviving a battle with a fairly moon-altered and infinitely powerful Gideon at one time, but nothing would ever compare to this if even the slightest thing went wrong.
And nothing would compare to it even if everything went right.
The Enforcer glided down to the ground, altering the effect of gravity on his weight with such skill that he set down softer than a feather. He paused before his doorstep, still unused to the silence of thought and greeting he would be getting. Leah would be long to bed by then, and though he loved her, even her jubilance as he walked through the door couldn't replace the tender, loving warmth of her mother as she greeted him with a kiss.
He swore softly, changing his mind and remaining in the growing sunlight as the early morning hours moved forward. He sat down on his stoop, his long legs braced about halfway down the short set of stairs leading to the pathway. The lawns and gardens around him were perfect, flourishing in the sunlight as the dew from the chill night slowly burned off. It was one of the benefits of being an Earth Demon-greenery and flowers anytime he wished. But Bella was partial to autumn, yearly sojourns to take in the seasonal color a part of growing up in New York. It was because of this that sturdy old oaks and dozens of other leafy trees surrounded a house that had once had a clear view to the cliff side.
The ground was littered with leaf debris, the colors bright and fascinating, and weak little piles were dotted around here and there. He could have cleaned it all away with a thought, but Bella insisted on raking them up into piles, which she and Leah immediately destroyed by jumping into them.
They played the game in the dark, of course.
Jacob knew she wished her child could safely see the things that sunlight illuminated, but it was what she called a "soft regret." One that would fade over time, perhaps when Leah grew strong enough to do just that.
And it was this adaptability that made it so hard for him to understand why Isabella was so impenetrably angry with Noah. And with him.
"Because just once I wish I wasn't the one who had to adapt."
Jacob hadn't heard her speak in so many days that, when he turned to look at her, his heart felt as though it had twisted full around in his chest.
"Bella…" he murmured.
She stepped off the threshold and down the steps until she was taking a seat beside him. She was in a cable-knit sweater, but even so she had to hunch deeper into it to keep warm.
"But then I look at these trees and I play in the leaves with our daughter and I realize that you've done your share of adapting as well."
Jacob watched as she swiped at her eyes with her fingertips quickly, one of those strange human habits meant to hide emotion when it actually drew attention to it.
"Growing trees is nothing to me. It is natural. Part of who I am, little flower," he told her softly. "Just as it is natural for you to be angry with someone who endangers your child."
"She is your child, too. Which means your customs apply to her. By your customs and culture, the earlier a child shows and uses its power, the more she is to be respected and encouraged to use it. By that perspective, I can understand why no one agrees with my anger. But what about my culture? What about the human customs I have that say you should be livid with Noah for what he did? That a father should beat the crap out of someone who exploits his child for their own ends?" She laughed shortly, shaking her head. "The only person who understands that and agrees with me is Noah, for God's sake!"
"I know," Jacob said quietly. "And you are right. What Noah did was wrong and dangerous…"
"But you love him, and you have to forgive him."
Bella nodded once, and burst into tears.
Kestra stirred and cautiously opened her eyes in the face of the lancing pain that shot across them and through her head. It faded as she focused, though, and she sighed softly in relief, waiting it out completely before she dared to move an inch. As she rested, she became aware of weight lying across her back.
She was lying on her stomach and the room was completely dark, although she had pretty good night vision so it didn't really matter to her so much. But usually there was a hint of light from somewhere, even if it was a street or porch light from outside. There wasn't even a single ray of moonlight.
The weight against her back twitched, bringing her attention back to it. It really got her attention when fingers slid softly up her spine for a few inches as their owner stirred restlessly beside her. She waited him out, waited for him to settle, and then gingerly turned her head to look in the opposite direction. She held her breath, and it was a good thing, too, because she was suddenly just about nose to nose with him. He was out like all the rest of the lights, so she carefully exhaled and allowed herself to breathe. She'd never slept beside anyone before, her inability to trust making it an impossibility. She found it wasn't really at all upsetting to realize that she had done so, or that it had been with this particular man.
She could see him with surprising clarity in spite of the darkness. More impressive were his features as he slept. Even in repose he reeked of authority and strength, the planes of his face and the unruly curls of his dark hair making him look stormy and wild. There was nothing innocent or boyish about him, even when totally relaxed. The smile lines on his face were gone while he slept, so even they weren't there to soften him. That was okay, though, she considered. He was positively arresting, and his dark lashes and widely cut mouth were incredibly sensual. She closed her eyes briefly, remembering the feel of his mouth, its taste. That memory quickly led to others and she flicked her eyes open before she got carried away.
Only to find tempestuous green and gray eyes looking at her.
She was suddenly breathless, totally speechless, and she couldn't so much as blink. What did you say to a man in your bed? It wasn't as though they'd covered these things in etiquette class. She'd already thanked him for saving her life, hadn't she? She frowned in consternation and told herself she wasn't allowed to do it again. Getting almost dead was a very bad habit. Needing a rescuer was a worse one.
"You have been conscious for all of five minutes and already you have something to frown about?"
It wasn't a criticism. She could tell he was honestly puzzled by that. It was funny to her, though. She hadn't thought him to have a regularly sunny disposition himself. Perhaps it was his looks. Or maybe it was because they always fought. She hadn't exactly given him a fair chance at showing his true colors. Besides, she just assumed the worst of everyone and moved on. It was easier that way. That meant no surprises, and no one ever disappointed her.
Although, she had to admit, he was full of surprises so far.
He had certainly caused her to surprise herself.
The thought made her entire body blush and she found she couldn't maintain eye contact. She was afraid he would be able to read her suddenly carnal thoughts.
He chuckled softly. "That is definitely an improvement," he teased her, his voice low and full of speculation. She instantly looked up at him, fire snapping in her crystal eyes.
"You better not piss me off first thing in the morning. Wouldn't want me to frown or anything," she warned him.
It was clear by his sexy, overtly masculine smile that he was completely unconcerned. "First of all, it is evening," he corrected her. "Secondly, it is my fondest wish never to piss you off again."
He said it with such sincerity, such seriousness in his smoke-dusted eyes, that she couldn't help but grin and laugh softly. She bit her lip against the humor, tried to look daunting, and even reached out to give him a shove.
"Don't you dare use that Eurotrashy charm on me, mister. It won't work." She was miffed that her shove seemed to have no effect on the wall of his body at all. He didn't budge a millimeter. Even his hand remained on her back. She felt his fingers move, the tips drifting up over her skin briefly before his palm settled back down again. She suddenly realized that the slight caresses were a need, one he couldn't control despite his best efforts to do so. He was struggling to keep from really touching her, trying to satisfy himself with those little strokes. There was something very exciting about knowing that. The idea that even though he was clearly as used to controlled behaviors as she was, he could not maintain that perfect control around her.
"I would never try to charm you. I would never insult you like that."
Noah was completely fascinated. She had the fastest-changing thoughts, expressions, and moods that he had ever seen. So fast that he could hardly keep track of them. He wished their mind contact would kick into gear. He was dying to know what she was thinking. He slid unobtrusive fingers over her back again, cursing himself for the slight petting but unable to help it. Her skin was so unbelievably soft, like refined silk beneath his fingertips. She was so warm, her humanity making her naturally warmer than he was, and he found that heat addicting. He wanted to check her over, to see how she was functioning after yesterday's close call, but he couldn't make himself do anything that would rob him of the opportunity to keep touching her.