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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Yet Noah had stripped her of her power, just as surely as he was setting off the changes to give her new ones. The Demon who claimed to be her Imprinted mate, claimed dependence on her for all time, promised the poetic possibilities of a depth of love unlike any she had known.
But one he had known.
Kestra suddenly raced into his memories, desperately needing to see what he knew. There was no stopping her as she rushed through them like a microfilm scanner, zipping to the one thing she wanted.
Sarah and Ariel.
His parents. Imprinted. The love, the touches, the need. Endless, beautiful need. Not obsession, but uniformity of living. Ariel had been so different from Sarah. He had passed on his position of Enforcer to his brother in order to marry her. He had become a warrior instead, just to please her. Still a fighter for his people, only different now. He was athletic in build, as dark as Sarah was light. Eyes of ice and blue like Kestra's, only far darker. Hair as black as night. Sarah was blond and light, delicate in frame and petite against the height of her mate. He was aggressive and spoke his opinion like law; she was more temperate, willing to see all sides, and lovingly willing to coax her husband into seeing them as well. She mediated when he stormed. She railed and he teased her to frustration. She enjoyed riding through the night, so he bought and bred her beautiful animals on which to do so. He worried she missed her life of royalty, knowing he was too intemperate to ever become King. She worried she couldn't give him the son he wanted so badly. But through it all they had loved. Rhythm, movement, and thought, all the harmonious symphony of two separate souls joined to make one. One in love. One in understanding. One in allowing those things that needed to be separate about them to maintain individual identity.
Ariel and Sarah. Hannah, Noah, and Magdelegna, the treasures of a wonderful union that had lasted for centuries. Sarah had given Ariel a son. Ariel had given Sarah a future King. Kestra saw them both within Noah. Aggression and excessiveness of desires and emotions, restricted by temperance and diplomacy. A scholar like his mother; a warrior like his father. The dark good looks of Ariel; the gentle, loving heart of Sarah.
Then she saw the tragedy of their deaths, as little dealt with as her own pain, as horrific as what she had suffered.
"Oh God…" she gasped, reaching to wrap her arms around his head, holding him tight and close. "Oh, Noah…"
The King fought back pain as she slid into his memories of that day, the day he and Gideon had found Sarah flayed apart, raped and eviscerated by one of their own. The very same horror as Kestra had suffered. Only, it had been a random act out of the blue instead of a purposeful torture, instead of a bomb ticking away waiting to explode. The child Magdelegna, only a few years old, looking for her mother and finding her before they could protect the scene. How to live with that child's expression? What choices to make? To suddenly be the head of the household as Sarah's mate fell into despair? How could Ariel exist without Sarah? He had felt every thought, every moment of torment and pain before she had died. Too far…too far from her to stop it. Failing her. Failing his children. Failing his heart and soul as halves of both were ripped away. Too far to stop his son from finding her. Too far to stop Legna from seeing what no toddler should ever see.
They had lost both parents that night. Ariel's devastation couldn't be assuaged. No Imprinted mate could survive the grief of such loss. They knew he would be gone within a year, one way or another, and there was nothing they could do about it. They didn't want to do anything about it. They wanted him to have mercy, to go and be with their mother beyond this lifetime. But even the dignity of his own death was denied Ariel. He was Summoned shortly after, taken by black magic and Transformed into a horrific monster. And Noah, having been made King by then and the pride of his parents, had to send his Enforcer out, ringing the death knell that would save the world from his ruined father. Jacob. Jacob, who had never known how much gratitude and love Noah had felt toward him for doing that service, for freeing his father from torture and torment.
And so ended a fairy tale. A love incorruptible.
"No…" Noah whispered against her ear as he heard the bitter ring of that thought. "You have to understand that the end of the story is unimportant, Kestra. All stories end. All life ends. Nature makes it so. And you know that it can be peaceful or it can be violent and cruel, but it is not the end that matters. It is everything that happens right up until that very last minute that matters most." He stroked fingers through her hair, knowing she listened as she held him tightly and breathed against his neck. "I know you understand this concept more than anyone I am likely to know. You had two paths before you when that terrible thing happened to you." They closed their arms tighter around each other in impulsive support. "Be forever a victim, or be anything and everything that savage thought he could take away from you. Oh, you make so much more sense to me now," he breathed, making her laugh, the tone low with spent tears.
"Don't get cocky. You don't know half the things about me you think you do," she taunted weakly.
"I am living in your mind," he reminded her in an intimate whisper. "I see the fire. I know Fire, Kestra. Come see mine, see the things I have done, justly and unjustly, all a part of learning my way through life. I see the fury you try to express with explosives. I feel the craving for deeply burning passion that you try to fill with danger. You are notorious? A mercenary? This is supposed to shock me or impress me? I wish to please you, so do let me know."
"You're mad as a hatter, you do know that, don't you?" She sighed the phrase, but there was no rancor to it, no power, and she was relaxed completely in his embrace. Her fingers slid into his loose hair, the curls still damp from his shower. She stroked through them slowly, the sensation singing through Noah as if a tuning fork had been struck to him. The vibration traveled from her fingertips and straight to his toes with some interesting pauses in between. "Nightwalkers, hmm?"
"Yes," he said carefully, not sure where her mind was going in spite of his newfound access to it. "Demons…my people. Vampires. Lycanthropes, Mistrals, Shadowdwellers, and more recently Druids like yourself. Although, your combined human DNA makes it possible for you to live in the sun, whereas we cannot."
"Thus the term Nightwalkers," she said dryly. "This sounds like a plot for a computer game or something." She paused a beat. "Why can't you go in the sun? I mean, what happens? Do you poof into dust-or is that just a Vampire thing?"
"Each species has a weakness to the sun, each reacts differently. For Demons it is like walking into a sleep chamber. Everything about it is designed to make us fall deeply asleep. In muted light, or light colored through stained glass, the effect is wonderful and comforting. We sleep beautifully during the day when the sun filters in." He slid a hand beneath her hair to palm the nape of her neck. He just felt better when he was touching her, soothing her somehow as he talked of wild and strange things. "Direct sunlight, for the young, is deadly. They can die if exposed too long. Adults will feel debilitating lethargy, making it impossible to move or defend themselves. Elders feel it, too, but those of us who are more powerful can defeat the effect for a period of time with tricks of power manipulation and the like."
"You're very powerful."
It wasn't a question. Especially not for one who could clearly look into a being and gauge exactly that. Plus, she had access to all of his thoughts and memories now. Some, when touched, would show a conflagration of power and furious firestorms.
"You will be, too," he told her. It wasn't meant to patronize. It was a stark truth. She had to be powerful in order to dampen his passionate fury. Very powerful. "They will develop faster now that you are remaining close to me. A Druid's power comes from the touch of his or her soul mate. Druids need to feed on that Demon's energy in order to recharge themselves."
"Feed?" She sounded momentarily horrified as she tensed against him.
"Mmm. Like a battery. A toy feeds off the battery to function. In our case, that means being in each other's presence. Being close. Over time, it will not be so restrictive a symbiosis. But we will always need to remain in contact."
Kestra slid out of his lap, kneeling to face him and sitting back on her heels. Noah trailed his fingers off her neck, clearly reluctant to let her go. She shook out her sugary hair, the straight fall settling a little wildly around her shoulders. Her bold eyes regarded him for a moment.
"I don't care for the idea of being dependant on anyone."
"It is not a dependence, Kestra. It is a symbiosis. I provide for you, and you provide for me. It is the Imprinting. I could not survive without you any more than you could without me. Look into my thoughts. See what it has been like for me. See the nights of the Hallowed moons and their waxing and waning the weeks around."
He showed her. Kes was struck instantly with memories of those nights. Dark and gripping urges. Primal impulses to give in to the elemental nature of his power. It was like an endless whisper, growing louder as the moon waxed, begging him to respond, to obey. It cried for fire and mischief. Flame and passion. The body burned with need, a violent ache that even a menagerie of women couldn't sate, so he'd stopped trying. He hadn't taken a woman to his bed during Samhain or Beltane for centuries now. He'd suffered alone, burned alone. For ages he had been saved by the loving presence of his sister as she grew into her wondrous powers of the Mind. Her humor and knowing ways, her ability to ease his emotions just with the power of her voice. It wasn't a cure, but enough to keep his sanity.
But he had been so afraid when she'd left his home to be with her mate, Gideon. And he'd been right to be fearful. Not for himself. No. He never truly thought of himself. He thought of the others. The innocents. He was certain that if he lost control, he would destroy everyone he loved. He had hung on, every year worse than the previous, but never showing it. Never showing his torture, in order to be a figure of support for those who looked to him for their own sanity.
The recent years had been hell. Without Legna's calming influence, he'd suffered and screamed and blistered. He'd waited until he knew he would be alone, then gone to a cavern he had found a few miles away. The entire cavern was burnt and blackened from the release he had found. He'd scorched everything. Blasts, explosions, and streams of flame-his body covered in sweat, soot, and smoke, his power igniting until he exhausted himself beyond consciousness. He'd wake shortly after because he was energy, and his body easily regenerated. Then he would return to the Hall to try to study, or he would lose himself in sleep.
And then, last Beltane, he'd dreamed of her. He had lain in the cavern, exhausted and gasping for consciousness, and he'd dreamed of her. Her fire and her fight, her passion marking him for all time, the blaze between them more than anything he could create, blissful beyond anything he could imagine. He had awakened that time and every time after screaming with need, his body aching, heavy, and hard until he was in unfathomable pain. As empty as she had felt, so had he felt unfulfilled.
He found her one second, and the next she was lost. Kestra saw what he had seen; saw the death she had met. The aftermath was a conflagration of rage and blind devastation. But he had rescued her. He had found a way. The path through hell. A walk through the defection from all he believed in, all he held most precious in morals and love and his very soul.
Again, lost. Control lost, friends lost, respect lost. Love and trust lost perhaps beyond repair. And as Samhain loomed so close, time was lost as he desperately tried to bring her into his world as smoothly as he could. As he tried to know her and let her know him. Their encounter in the parlor hadn't even begun to satisfy him, to satisfy her. The physical was an impulse; the emotional was an essential. It was her soul and her heart that he needed to soothe the beast of Fire inside him. It was her feminine power, her back-burn that would stop him in his path and forever keep him from causing harm or uncontrollable destruction. The passion of their bodies was just a symbolic explosion of their symbiosis, perhaps one day of their love, and definitely an outlet for the Fire within them both. One that would cause no harm to them or to others when their symbiotic relationship clicked into perfect position.
Kestra struggled to her feet, aware he was following her every movement, but he didn't touch her, knowing she was overwhelmed again and needed to just breathe and think. She sat on the bed and took deep breaths, not looking at him but feeling him hovering at the foot of the bed watching her, probably reading her mind. It was such a vast responsibility! She would be responsible for the sanity of a King, the sanity of a being of such enormous power, a power meant to be contained by her parasitic presence.
But as frightening as that was, she wasn't afraid of facing it. She felt inside herself that place of equal measure that was growing. She suddenly understood that she had scanned the power of an Ancient and powerful being, had taken him by surprise even. She'd shown him a path he'd been seeking for for centuries. In one heartbeat she'd started him in the direction of power that even his vast wisdom had been unable to find.
Her body was growing stronger. She'd be able to heal rapidly, she'd been told. Yes, this she was more than capable of handling. She worshipped strength, embraced the undiscovered thrill of the future she'd have as a being of power and the responsibilities that came with it.
She looked at Noah, understanding that helping him abate his Fire was going to be her top priority. It would mean passion beyond her wildest imaginings. This made her heart race, but there was no fear. There was hunger. No. Starvation. She was thirty-two years old. In all that time, there had been nothing but a frigid, gray existence where her body only felt alive flying in the face of danger.