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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
That was all he needed. Just this. Lying there talking and gently touching. He could be very happy like this.
"Where are you from, anyway?" she asked suddenly. "I know you aren't originally from England. You don't have that haughty Brit thing going on at all, though I think you have been here long enough that you learned your English here."
"You have a good ear," he said, honestly impressed. "Clearly you are no stranger to Europe yourself. You do not speak like an American."
"And you know a lot of Americans?"
"I know a few. I find New York accents to be particularly charming."
She laughed at that. Only a European would find that accent "charming."
"Hey…you dodged me!" She said it suddenly, lifting her head from the pillow so she could glare at him accusingly.
Noah was suddenly in threat of losing contact with her. He pressed his fingers to her moving back and hastily rectified the situation.
"I apologize. It is an old habit. My people have been through a lot these past years, and I have gotten in the habit of being impersonal and diverting attention in order to gain information. My family is from a region in the Czech Republic. Many of my people have roots there, though we are scattered now or are concentrated here in England in small groups. It is more peaceful here, less skirmishing over land and borders."
"You keep saying 'my people.' What people?"
"My culture. I am a leader of my culture, and people look to me for guidance and the traditions that define our culture." He smiled at her. "Now what about you? The American without an American accent. Your speech is refined, almost as though you are purposely eliminating any hints of accent."
She felt a chill walk down the back of her neck. He was frighteningly accurate in his assessment. She had never met anyone with such an understanding of detail, and she moved in shrewd circles. Her first instinct was to give him the same cover story she gave everyone. She never told anyone any truths about herself. She made up a story and made it a truth right before their eyes. She wasn't honest like he was.
"I went to a Canadian boarding school as a very young girl. A school for young ladies of culture. We were trained to speak perfect French and to speak with perfect elocution. We learned to walk and act with precision and grace and to excel in manners and etiquette. I suppose I have retained some of my skills from those years." And that was a truth. She felt her heart pounding with the instant kickback of fear brought on by the exposure.
Noah felt the sudden rush of the fearful emotion. It rang through him with heart-stopping clarity, instantly making his heart race to catch the rhythm of hers. He held his breath a moment, almost too excited to focus. At last, a sign of their minds beginning to open to one another. He let the feeling wash over him, savoring the connection. After a moment, he slid his hand up her spine to the nape of her neck and soothingly began to rub the sensitive spot.
"And you travel a lot," he managed to say with a level voice, totally belying the pitch of his delight.
"How did you know that?"
"You maneuvered through England like a professional traveler. Only people who live in a variety of places have that confidence."
"You know," she murmured, "you have to be the most astute man I've ever met."
"Well, when you get to be my age, you tend to acquire a bit of wisdom."
"Oh yeah, you're a regular sage. Shouldn't you be sitting on a mountain somewhere cultivating a long white beard waiting for knowledge seekers to come to you?"
"Have I mentioned that sarcasm has the potential to be detrimental to the natural beauty of your face?" he countered.
She laughed, but breathily, because the compliment had come to her in so casual and backhanded a manner that she hadn't recognized it at first. She had learned to thank people graciously for such things, but this time she was speechless. His hand was moving gently against her neck, relaxing away all tension and every bit of anxiety their conversation might bring up. It was also leaving the heat of his fingers and palm forever imprinted on her skin, that magical sparkle of energy spreading out over the entire expanse of her back, shoulders, and even her scalp and face. She wished she knew how he was able to do that. For the moment, she hoped he wouldn't stop.
"I will try to refrain in the future," she said quietly.
"Is that a promise? If so, I will hold you to it."
"I said try," she pointed out. "I promise to try."
"I think I shall have to be satisfied with that," he mused with humor flashing in his beautiful eyes.
"Yes, you shall," she mocked him with an aggrieved expression. She chuckled when he did. He had a wonderfully easy laugh, rich and male from top to bottom. It was rather infectious, bringing out those little wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that so fascinated her, making his pupils flash with jade lights and misting smoke.
Noah nearly jumped out of his skin when she inexplicably reached out and touched his face. Her fingertips went to the corner of his right eye, smoothing over the skin there as she blossomed into a breathtaking smile that went deep into her fair blue eyes. He closed his eyes, unable to help himself as his starved senses raced to memorize the softness of her touch, the sweet scent of her skin as it brushed near his nose and lips. It took all of his willpower not to catch up that beautiful hand and place a kiss or two in the palm. He didn't want to do anything to possibly upset her when she was being so surprisingly receptive for a change.
"Noah?" His name on her lips instantly opened his eyes. She drew her full bottom lip between her teeth for a moment as she scanned his face. "Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" he asked, unable to weed out the hoarse undertone to his voice.
"You stop. Everything. One minute you're laughing or upset or talking, then suddenly your eyes close and you go very still."
He just looked at her for several beats, at first trying to formulate a plausible explanation, but he was a lousy liar and he hated the idea of being dishonest with her in any way.
"I suppose I do it as a defensive or protective gesture because I am experiencing something out of context or inappropriate to a specific situation."
"My, my, them sure is some fancy words, mister," she said, affecting a hillbilly accent. She switched instantly to her usual sweet tones. "Would you put that in layman's terms for those of us who know you're trying to snow them?"
"I am not trying to snow you." He sighed when she cocked a brow at him in contradiction. "Damn, you are the most…"
"Infuriatingly observant woman in the world?" she supplied when he was at a loss.
"Yes, something a lot like that," he conceded with a sigh.
Noah rolled away from her, suddenly getting up out of bed. He ran both hands through the long, wild waves of his hair as he tried to gather his thoughts. Kestra was frowning, feeling the loss of his remarkably soothing touch. She was also sorry that she had obviously said something upsetting to him. He walked away from her and out of the bedroom. She turned over immediately, grasping the bedsheet and twisting it around her body. She sat up and went to stand up, but the entire room took a massive nosedive and she gasped with the shock of it. She fell back across the bed, closed her eyes, covered her face with her hands, and began to lecture her lurching stomach on the joys of antinausea.
"Hey, are you crazy?" came a masculine scolding several minutes later when he found her lying in that very position. It was obvious she had tried to get up. He sat down beside her on the bed, leaned over her, and she could feel his warm breath against her hands. She sighed, feeling the heat of his body and finding it somehow comforting. "Feeling a little dizzy, are we?"
Well, he doesn't have to sound so smug about it. She frowned and dropped her hands. She daringly opened an eye and found it was much better with her eyes opened after all.
"I understand you have this whole Wonder Woman thing going on," he mused, reaching to stroke his thumb under each of her eyes, somehow making her feel more focused as he did so, "but I doubt you will be walking around much tonight."
"I don't do invalid," she grouched, making the face to match. "Just give me a minute and a very big anchor and I'll be fine."
He laughed, the energy and sound of it making her smile in spite of her pique at her situation, and she beat on his chest in punishment as he made her laugh with him. "This is not funny!" she insisted irritably.
"No. Your illness is not funny, but you are. It never occurred to me that your acerbic remarks could be used for good."
"Evil of the world, beware," she announced halfheartedly with a fisted salute that ended with her arm flung across her eyes. She made a long, growling sound of frustration. "I hate this. I hate it so much."
"I know, baby," he said softly, reaching to stroke through her hair in sympathy. "But I promise you, in a few days you will bounce back far better than you were before."
"You bet your ass I will. Don't get used to this whole macho man in shining armor thing."
"I know. I know. You do not do maiden in distress."
"Exactly!" She lifted her arm to look up into his face. "You catch on pretty quick for a…" She trailed off, biting her lip on the completion of the prejudiced remark.
"For a man? Another promise for you, Kestra. I am not like any man you know. So that insult does not bother me in the least."
He pushed off from the bed and walked out of her sight again.
Noah leaned on the kitchen counter, having come in under the guise of getting Kestra one of those sports drinks in order to continue her rehydration.
The fact of the matter was, he was running out of time. In so many ways. She was already asking questions that required carefully worded answers so he would not lie to her. When she asked for a light, he was going to have to explain how everything in the house had gotten fried electrically, why phones wouldn't work, anything like that. He could possibly come up with something clever about that, but he was already growing weary of avoidance. He had to tell her the truth, had to come up with a way to help her accept it and him, and he only had twenty-four hours to do it in. Samhain was gnashing at his heels, he could feel it with every fiber of his being; every muscle and blood cell beat with the rhythm of the full moon hidden behind the thick towels he had hung over the windows and the storm that was gathering outside. But none of this would help him tomorrow. He wasn't even sure if it would help her. Was she far enough into the change to be affected like he would be?
He didn't even know if her illness was all heat exhaustion or if some of it had to do with his thoughtless absence those couple of days he'd struggled with indecision. He needed a plan and he didn't have one. It wasn't in his nature to work off the cuff. Leaders planned. They got counsel and advice and thought things out meticulously. His last action of impulse had probably destroyed his friendship with Isabella forever.
Nor was he used to so much indecision. Corrine was right, he was paralyzed. Nothing in his life had ever given him such a sense of fear as when he thought of losing Kestra through the mistakes of his own actions or inactions.
He just had to bite the bullet, as the saying went. He couldn't keep it a secret, and she was definitely smart enough to start figuring things out on her own. He wouldn't feel right touching her again without explaining what she was getting herself into, and Destiny knew he was dying to touch her again. His entire psyche was screaming for it. It almost had nothing to do with his body at all. It would be a whole lot easier on him if he didn't remember how she felt, how she tasted…how she sounded. Her impassioned cries echoed loudest within him, making him howl out for more from deep within his soul. He was no stranger to his animalistic side, but this possessive craving was entirely out of his realm of experience.
He pushed off from the counter, taking a deep breath or two before moving back toward the bedroom, having affected his own hungry body with his thoughts and memories of the woman who was far too real and close for his sane mind to handle at the moment. He needed to draw from a completely different well of need. The need to know her, to learn her, and most of all, the need to earn her respect and trust.
At least he had used enough sense to put his pants on. Somehow it felt a lot safer than his temporary alternative of the night before. The fabric was damp and chilly, but he figured he didn't deserve much better and it could help in the long run. Then again…
He entered the bedroom, his keen eyesight picking out her hands-and-knees position on the center of the bed all too easily. The sheet around her body was not so much around it as it was half on and half off it. She was rummaging in the bedside drawer for something. Unfortunately, it was the bedside drawer on the near side of the room, the side facing him. He supposed she'd expected to hear his approach, but out of habit he made no sound when he moved. Demons were night creatures, natural-born hunters, and moving with stealth was as innate to them as breathing.
Kestra's face was hidden by a curtain of white hair, made almost iridescent in the darkness, at least to his eyesight. He could see every single curve of her body, from breasts to taut belly to the silhouetted space between her thighs. The sheet was draped over her back and buttocks, so it left all the rest exposed as she searched, clearly having little success because she was swaying dizzily and trying to fight it. She looked incredibly tempting, far too delicious, and adorably stubborn. Noah almost turned around and walked back to the kitchen so he could breathe all over again. But, he thought with a sigh, even a King was only so strong.
"Looking for something?"
She didn't start or react with any kind of shock. She tossed back her hair, and after a dizzy moment of regretting the habitual action, she blew at a stray strand and cocked a brow at him. Noah was ridiculously pleased that she didn't rush to cover herself up.