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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
What if she wasn't yet strong enough to dampen the power surges he might give off in the heat of any given moment? He already knew he couldn't maintain control around her. His ability to protect someone close to his body from fire would protect her, but what of a castle full of aides and visitors? Servants and friends? True, on Samhain they were likely to be elsewhere, the holiday releasing them of duties and obligations by tradition, but those who had nothing to do or were afraid of their own needs were always welcome to stay.
Noah reached to rub at the tension in his temple. He was giving himself a headache with all of these thoughts and worries. There was too much to do and no time in which to do it right. That included taking his beautiful mate to bed the way she deserved, with nothing but honesty, truth, and full disclosure between them. The tension in his head exploded into tightening pain that coiled down the back of his neck and shoulders.
"I can't believe I slept the whole way here," Kestra offered at last when she got tired of trying to stare at him through the wardrobe door. "How is that possible? Car to plane to car and all the way up the stairs? I never sleep like that. I must have been boring company."
"You were exhausted and recovering," he countered, slowly looking through his clothes before settling on the more modern convention of slacks and a matching black polo shirt.
She supposed she had to accept that. She had to confess that she'd never remembered being so tired, so drained of energy.
Kestra's brow furrowed and she rubbed at her temple as an unexpected flare of painful tension shot across it and down the back of her neck. It was an instant tension headache, but she couldn't understand its sudden source. She was the calmest she'd been since she'd been rescued from Sands's apartment. Noah was pulling on his clothes behind the cover of the wardrobe door, so she was able to push the pain away and formulate a halfway decent smile by the time he emerged fully dressed. He walked around to her side of the bed and took a seat, once again by her hip, facing her. Since she was sitting up, it brought them very close and she could see the lines tucked at the corners of his eyes were not all there because of his smile. There was tension bracketing his lips. She reached to smooth the lines away with a gentle touch.
"Hey," she said softly, her heart suddenly hitching with confused excitement as it tried to settle on anxiety or exhilaration.
"Hello," he returned, his charming smile reaching the jade behind the smoke of his eyes.
"Are we going to have 'the talk' now?"
Apparently her reminder disturbed him. He reached up to his temple, rubbing at the spot with a strong thumb. At least she wasn't the only one rattled by all this, she thought with amusement.
"Kes…are you happy in your life?"
Kestra's breath stopped midexhale as the question impacted her. Her knee-jerk response was to tell him that she was really damn happy with her life, thank you very much, so go piss up a rope. She knew why he was asking. Her heart pounded her ribs into a pulp because he was asking.
"Sometimes." It was all she could force out of her clogged respiratory system. It was a lame response! She was supposed to be taking a stand here! What the hell was wrong with her?
"You strike me as the sort who leads a very full and busy life."
"I do," she agreed with more ease. His acknowledgment compensated for everything she hadn't gotten across to him. "And an unusual one. Both business and pleasure take me all over the world. I see and do things that make my life very…not run-of-the-mill."
"I can understand that. My life is not run-of-the-mill, either."
That she didn't believe. He had roots here in his big, anachronistic castle. She sensed he had a large network of supportive friends. He was just the type who would engender that type of loyalty. All she had to do was remind herself how easily he had slipped past her rather prickly defenses without her even realizing it. That took a skill with people that, frankly, she envied. It was a skill that produced attachments and ties, however, so she had long ago decided she was better off without it. She could see that he didn't make enemies easily, and while she tried not to, it almost invariably happened.
He'd said he was a cultural leader, which, while it could mean anything, implied responsibilities of a political nature. He was clearly some kind of rallying point for his people. He had to be. Only people with that kind of power and devotion used the term "my people" with such soft ease.
"I don't think your life is anywhere near as wild as mine is. I have some fairly hair-raising hobbies."
"Like?" he encouraged.
"Whitewater rafting, spelunking, cliff diving, base jump-" She broke off because she was watching his expression turn to very still stone. Not anger, not rage or irritation. Just still. "Noah," she said carefully, fending off disappointment, "don't ask me questions if you can't handle the answers. I'm trying to be truthful and I'm not by nature a truthful person."
Noah blinked at the rebuke, as gentle as it was. She was right. She was also using her enhanced intuition to see past the mask he tried to use to cover up his reactions to her death-defying list of relaxations. How could he explain to her how terrifying the thought of her being hurt or killed was for him? He couldn't bear life without her. Imprinting or no, he couldn't live in a world without touching her sugar-soft hair, tasting her sweet mouth, laughing at her barbed humor.
She was proving to be wise, stretching her limits to communicate with him, which proved her ability to adapt and be receptive if she wanted to be. He knew there was pain, that all of those hobbies and the rest of the danger she subjected herself to were an attempt to kill off a fear that she couldn't touch no matter how hard she tried. The closer her mind got to his, the more positive he was of that.
Still, he had no right to judge or to place limitations on her. He hadn't even given her the courtesy of telling her that her life would change.
But he would.
"Kes, if you are looking for dangerous things, they are far closer than you might think," he said softly to her, reaching again to touch her hair. "You were born to be great. You were born to be in a position that will always be dangerous."
"I already know that," she said, looking at him with surprise and confusion warring in her features. "I just don't know how you know that."
You were born to be mine.
Noah looked dead into her blue-ice eyes and pushed the thought into her mind with all of his mental strength, with every trick Legna had ever taught him to help her read his mind.
Kestra felt a ferocious chill burst over her skin, her headache flared, and then…
The words entered her mind with a growl of permanence, impossible to be her own because they were in his voice, loud and clear, rich and sexy. There was no mistaking it, and there was no mistaking the look in his eyes that repeated the phrase over and over.
You were born to be mine.
"No," she whispered, instantly shaking her head and trying to dislodge the hand in her hair at the same time.
He only tightened his grip and brought them closer, very nearly placing his mouth against hers, their breath hot as it mingled against their faces in rapid rushes.
"Listen to me very carefully, Kestra. Look into my eyes and remember only one thing. Trust yourself. Trust yourself if you do not trust me. You laugh in the face of fear, remember? It is in everything I have seen and heard you do. I need you to be fearless for me, for just a little while, long enough to hear me out. Do not run away from me without letting me explain."
Kestra's eyes were wide, her breath was quick, but she couldn't form honest fear when she looked into his eyes. Not fear of him. Oh, she was terrified of what that thought floating in her head made her feel. She was screaming with that fear from top to bottom. But that had nothing to do with his belief that she was born to be his, and everything to do with the fact that she believed him.
All the way to her soul.
He shifted his hold on her head, his hand sliding to catch her around the nape of her neck, that soothing, protective grasp that so disarmed her, so relaxed her. God, his touch was like magic. It was magic. She was convinced of it now. He was some sort of magician and he was about to pull a bunch of bunnies out of his hat.
She laughed, not caring that it sounded a little hysterical.
"Okay," she said a bit breathlessly, "explain. Tell me all your secrets and I promise not to run screaming until afterward, if running and screaming are merited."
"Baby," he breathed against her lips, communicating with that single word how he ached to kiss her but wouldn't do so until he felt it was an honorable act. "I swear to you I can never do anything to hurt you. I need you to understand that. It is impossible. Hyperactive lovemaking aside, I will never willingly harm you. Do you believe that?"
"Hyperactive lovemaking?" She found herself grinning in spite of all the emotions holding a civil war inside her. How did he do that? Make her laugh when she was at the worst disadvantage with him? "That's a very good term for it. Elegant, tasteful, yet honest."
"Thank you," he said, eyes sparkling.
"But I need to know you believe me."
She did, but she couldn't speak for a minute. She was trying to piece something together in her head. Why had he mentioned their lovemaking, as if he had hurt her? They'd been pretty wild, very intense, but he hadn't truly hurt her. She was tougher than that. Perhaps he thought he had. The male ego could be an enormous thing.
Then she remembered her sunburn. Rug burn? No, no rugs involved. How had she been burned? She hadn't been in the sun, certainly not nude in October, which is what she would have to have been to get burned on her…
Noah could not help himself. Watching her thoughts and her struggle to hide her expressions was painfully poignant, and she looked so damned beautiful it hurt. Before he could curb the impulse, his mouth touched to hers.
It was instant reconnection, hunger, recognition, and a whipping burn of need that didn't like being held in check on either side. He'd meant to reassure her, to express some form of solidarity and faith in her ability to cope. Noah hadn't planned on the instant conflagration that came with kissing Kestra. Why not? When had he kissed her without these levels of passion arising like a wildfire?
Kestra made a sound of pure want, her hands coming into his hair to pull him closer, to push her tongue into his mouth because she needed to taste him. He was as hot as fire, tasted like smoky passions deeply repressed, waiting to be unearthed. She felt the tremor through his entire body everywhere her body contacted his.
She tasted like every sweet confection, her wonderful aggression pure aphrodisiac. Noah dragged her across his lap, needing contact with her, needing to feel the intensity of the heat of her body. He had no idea how he had kept control these past few days. How had he managed to deny himself after the way it had felt when they had come together?
Kestra was asking herself the exact same question. Why had she left him? She couldn't remember. What insanity, to walk away from so much feeling. As she settled into his lap eagerly, she felt how even just her kiss aroused him, the evidence of it snuggled against her bottom. God, she loved knowing that.
Noah suddenly surged to his feet, pushing her back down to sit on the bed and forcing himself to back step away from her. He closed his eyes so he could regroup without having to look at the flush of passion on her mouth and the curve of need in her sensual body. Mostly, it was the confusion bordering on hurt in her eyes that was going to kill him.
"I mean…" He cleared his throat, cursing violently in his head at the waxing moon and all its influences. He could control himself. He knew he could. He had to. "Kestra, as badly as I want…Talking must come first."
The statement had his desired effect. The hurt was replaced by understanding, and he even saw respectful gratitude as well. Saw or felt. Their connection was getting stronger with every touch. Every moment.
"Thank you," she said softly, her hands smoothing down her skirt. "Not many men would…" She trailed off, already knowing he understood.
"Kes," he said, her name ardent on his lips as he added the passionate gesture of catching up her hands and kneeling before her feet. "I am not the man you think I am. Not in physical terms." Unbelievably, she arched that smug, knowing little brow at him and made him laugh. "That is not what I am talking about," he scolded her, squeezing her hands as if it were a punishment.
"Then please explain."
"I am not human, Kestra."
Okay, I was not expecting that.
The thought came through loud and clear.
What were you expecting?
Kestra's eyes went fabulously wide, her white lashes flickering with shock.
"Oh my God, you can read my mind!"
Kestra exploded out of his grasp and reach, stumbling across the room as a dizzy spell threatened to take her to the floor. She fought it off long enough to glare at him.
"Stop it right now! No mind reading! How long have you been-?" She broke off, remembering all the things she had been thinking since he'd come to her rescue.
"Relax, Kes, I have only just become attuned to your thoughts within this past half hour or so. I only catch the powerful ones. Our connection is not that strong yet."
"Oh. Okay. I feel much better now." She could not have gotten snider if she had paid others to help her. It cut him as fiercely as her passion did.
"The connection of our minds is a natural evolution to two extremely complementary souls, Kes. You can read my mind, too."
That seemed to give her pause. Instantly she began to concentrate, clearly attempting to read his thoughts of the moment. Her lashes blinked hard a single time.