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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Gideon felt her following her blueprint, her mind technical and calculating as if she was very familiar with reading and interpreting complex schematics. He felt her tracing within him with a cool sapphire light, a small concentrated orb of color and energy mapping over every path of power, through all the access points to his gifts, examining them one by one, voracious with curiosity.
"Astral projection," they said softly in unison, startling the Demon King, though he didn't show it or allow it to disturb them.
They spoke in tandem because Kestra's mind now controlled all of Gideon's autonomic and voluntary impulses. His vocal nerves picked up the signal of her brain when she sent the desire to speak to her own systems.
Kestra continued on, the sapphire orb of inquisition examining his ability to astral project, measuring it, admiring its scope and all the things he could do with it that no one knew he could do. Then she went a little further and traced the energy slightly into the future, traced the paths of potential he hadn't yet reached or discovered, and saw what he couldn't do, but one day would master.
"Astral healing," they said as they understood that potential for what it was. Gideon's low voice blended with her strong feminine one, and it was almost like music, a symphony she was directing. Gideon had always suspected that one day he would be able to heal in his astral form, and he had even experimented with the possibilities. He had felt on the verge of it, had known it was possible, and yet hadn't attained even a glimmer of success. Now he knew he would. He suddenly knew how he could find the path.
Because she had shown it to him.
Instinctively, he broke into her control over his motor skills; his free hand came up to circle the wrist of the hand against his face. It was not a restriction, but a show of gratitude. Gideon was also aware of the burn of power it was taking for her to chase her curiosities within him, that she was fascinated enough to continue on until she had examined every last power and its potential. She would flame out long before then, her untried power not yet ready or trained to go any further without ultimately damaging her.
"Kestra," he said quietly, firmly. "Release yourself from your task. Pull back toward your own energy; find your home in your own body. I know you are curious, but you have all the time in this ageless existence to discover more."
"Kes," Noah said softly into her ear, adding the familiarity of his voice to the call, "I know this is exhilarating and new, but I also know you are a thrill seeker, not one who has a death wish. You know the difference between using safety measures and being reckless. Be safe now. Harness this. Let us talk awhile about this and plan your next adventure."
She blinked. Gideon sighed and sat back with the release, freeing her hand but instinctively maintaining his healing touch against her hip, although his focus had disallowed any healing while Kes had studied him so closely.
Kestra looked at Noah, met his eyes, but he brushed his hand gently over her gaze.
"No, Kikilia. I know your thoughts. I know you. Knowledge removes fear, and you think if you know me, know my power, then you will learn not to fear me. While this is plausible, it is not safe for you to do right now. But I promise you," he added with a great intensity of emotion that drove his sincerity home to her, "I promise you that we will do this together, and you will know me like no other knows me. This is the way of Imprinted mates, and I am not afraid of it. Not with you."
All at once, Kestra understood the enormousness of responsibility and the trust that would be required for something like that. Even the silver-eyed healer had allowed her unprecedented access, never once thinking of shutting her out, of not meeting her with trust. She now knew him to be an enormously powerful being, one who didn't reveal his weaknesses to anyone. But she knew them all now. Some she herself could exploit just with her human skills, others she could never manage, but she was grasping quickly that there were those out there who could. There was an entire network of beings who wielded gargantuan power just as these two men did. Not just their breed, but several differing breeds.
"Nightwalkers," Noah whispered to her, making her aware once more that he was in her thoughts.
"So." She paused to clear her throat. "You weren't speaking metaphorically about all of this, then?"
The way she cast her eyes up at him, her lips pressing back her wry smile, made him chuckle low and soft, relieving him so very much that he dared to press his lips to her temple.
"I am not the metaphorical type, baby," he informed her.
Kes flicked her eyes back to the medic. "Thank you. For what you did. I haven't had an asthma attack in a very long time."
"It was brought on by your panic and the addition of this heat exposure you seem to have had." Gideon didn't even look at Noah, but the King felt his reprimand anyway. She should have been to a medic immediately, Gideon was thinking. "But I am happy to inform you it will very likely be the last one you will ever experience. Between my skills and the changes in your body, you will no longer be susceptible. Your body will rewrite a lot of your weaknesses and old injuries as you become Druid. Your ability to heal is stronger already, though a fraction of what it soon will be."
Gideon completed his sentence, but an expression chased over his face and she could see the abrupt end to one thought as another was formulated. His head and eyes moved almost imperceptibly, but it was the slide of his fingers from her hip to low on her belly that made her understand. His fingers sought her scar, and her heart lurched with a thousand feelings. Fear again. Dread. Pain and loss. But the worst was the sudden flare of hope, a wild surging that she didn't even know she was capable of. She struggled to smash it down, turning her face away and into Noah's chest, her hands gripping the fabric of his shirt.
She whimpered the word, her pain causing Noah instant agony. He saw the track of Gideon's fingertips and struggled with blinding impulses. The touch was too intimate. Jealousy. It was hurting Kestra. Protectiveness. It released the memory of trauma and that connection to evil that blanketed their joined minds in blackness so thick it was suffocating. Resentment. Fury. The blinding necessity to lash back, to fight, to destroy the source for all time.
This time it was Gideon who said the word.
It fell hard and harsh, a warning to the King and his whirlwind of uncontrolled emotions, and a rejection of the hand that reached out and clamped around Gideon's wrist. In his rush of emotion, Noah would crush Gideon's bones to dust if that was what it would take to make him cease hurting his mate.
"What manner of accident caused this?" Gideon directed the question to Kestra, who was already shaking her head in refusal. "This trauma is very old. You must have been quite young. They repaired your uterus, but you lost an ovary. Just the same, this level of scarring makes it impossible for you to carry a child."
Kestra sobbed as Gideon aired out her dirtiest laundry. Noah's death grip on Gideon's wrist fell away like dust in the wind. Kestra was keening, a terrible sound of grief and hurt unlike anything he had ever heard. It tore into him like thousands of blades, scorching him with agony, as if he were standing on the surface of the sun. He clasped her even tighter, sealing her to his pounding heart as he cradled her head in his hand. He felt her hot tears touch his skin at his collar. She then laughed a slightly wild laugh against Noah's neck.
"Are you ready for forever now?" she asked in a hot whisper. "Are you ready to be a King without an heir? A man with no hope of a child? Will you see me with all that beautiful, mindless passion now? Or will you look at me like all the rest-broken and defective?"
"Kestra," he said with soft, scolding pain. "I am ready for only one thing, and that is you. You are perfect for me. You are perfect to me." Noah raised hard eyes to the medic, but Gideon was moving to make his retreat. Legna was already in his mind and she snatched him out of the room with a teleporting pop.
"Look into my mind, baby, and understand me," Noah urged Kestra gently. "I have always thought to have a child one day, but I have lived over six centuries without one and felt no great loss, because my house literally runs over with fosterlings and very short kin who leave too many toys around. There is only one thing I have ever craved with all of my heart and soul. From the first time I saw my parents kiss and look at each other with the boundless love that only comes with the perfection of mated souls, I have hungered for my soul mate. She who would be Imprinted on me for all time. I have aspired to nothing as much as I have yearned for this one thing. Not my throne, not my power, not my scholarship. None of these has mattered to me with the intensity with which I have wanted the one who would look into my eyes with that level of love and devotion I saw in my parents' locked gazes, who would long for the same from me. The one. The only one.
"I have finally found you, baby, and nothing but Destiny herself can take you from me. Nothing you say will drive me from you. Nothing. Do you understand? You will be my love. I pray that I will be yours. I pray that I am worthy enough to earn it."
"Why me?" she asked, huge tears refracting the crystal blue of her eyes as she bored her gaze into his. "Why waste this on a woman who has never known love? Who can't even be sure she can feel it? A barren woman. A woman who is afraid of nothing except this one thing you're asking of me. You offer devotion, obsession, centuries where you believe you won't tire of me? I'm not that naive, Noah."
"Why do you use that word? Obsession? You keep using it, like a talisman to ward me off. I feel and know that scarred place within you, and it has nothing to do with your womb, Kestra. Tell me of this one who haunts you," he demanded fiercely. "This one who makes you so afraid to be loved and adored by me. The one who blackened those words for you forever, making them a curse instead of the blessing they truly are."
"The one who loved me so much that he would kill me rather than let anyone else have me?" She shuddered. "The one who couldn't accept that I never loved him and never would. He did everything so sweetly at first. His words were like poetry, and he was just as charming as you are, but jealousy and possessiveness reared up and he became ugly. Then the ugliness would fade back to charm as he begged for forgiveness. I forgave once, but never again after that. I turned away from the pretty words and the cajoling and he screamed for me. Day and night, walking in my every step, my every move interpreted as an invitation, my every rejection everyone else's fault except mine and his. Two years he haunted me. Stalked me. He hunted me like an animal and I lived in fear. I was fifteen when I met him, and I was seventeen when all that love and obsession finally turned to hatred and rage. I was seventeen when I came home from school and found my mother stabbed to death in the bathroom, my father slaughtered in the garage…"
Here she sobbed once, hard, the memories flooding her, flooding Noah, and he struggled to keep the violence of his reaction down. He knew what was coming. Like a tidal wave, it was an inevitability.
"Tell me," he managed to choke out, his arms tightening around her, his kiss in her hair.
"It never occurred to me he would still be there. I…I couldn't leave even if it had. Leave my mother? My father? What if they were still alive?" Her memory of being covered in her parents' blood washed into him, her vain attempts to stem the flow from fatal stab wounds in her mother's neck and throat. Blood on her hands. Blood on her cheerleading uniform.
And then hands in her hair.
Noah saw it without her recitation, and she knew he could see it. Hands in her hair, dragging her to a fresh point of slaughter. Fists against her face and body, endless pain as a rage she didn't deserve was loosed upon her. Now her blood, broken teeth, broken ribs, broken arms and hands as she tried to fend off the blows. An offensive hit that threw him off her body. Rolling over, crawling.
Screaming, fiery pain as the knife slammed through the back of her thigh, tearing through her flesh, the tip breaking off against her thighbone.
And then he was on her, beating her again, but refusing her the bliss of darkness so she would be awake for the rape that went on endlessly. The police arrived while he was still inside her, trying to spend himself again on the pleasure of her pain. In his final fury, he plunged the blunted knife low in her belly, a purposeful attempt to make himself the last to ever use her as a complete woman.
Even as she lay in shock, begging God for mercy, death, or at least unconsciousness, she watched them shoot her assailant in her own living room. It was the end of evil, but it didn't matter. He would never die now. He would always be there. Buried deep within her like the knife.
Yet she never shed a tear. She couldn't. He would win every time she did. And she swore from that day she never would. She would never be a victim again, and she would never love anyone for fear…
And she never had. Until Noah. He had touched her. He brought with him urges that she found she couldn't resist. He resurrected wants and needs that had died with the plunge of a knife when she was only seventeen. She used sex as a control, a tool. Men who got too close were used and discarded coldly, assuring an end to friendship and caring. The very thing she had tried with him.
Except none had touched her like he had. None had made her burn, lit forbidden fires and desires. None but Noah had given her pleasure. She had thought pleasurable sex a lie or fairy tale; she had thought lovemaking an impossibility. Noah had come along and had changed everything, crawled under her defenses, and terror gripped her until she felt as though she were once more lying in helpless shock, waiting to see what horror would happen next.
She could fight anything; she could detonate the entire globe, sabotage the most powerful men in the world and bring them to their knees with both bombs and femininity. She was lethal, every step she took a danger to others.