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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Uh, Noah…I think you're missing something."
Kes looked up, impressively up, at a blond giant of a man whose hair was as purely gold as hers was sugar white. His merry green gaze regarded her for a minute as he set her back onto her feet safely. Kes would have thanked him, but her hands had inadvertently lain against his biceps as he'd caught her and she had to take a minute to marvel at the monstrous size of the muscles in comparison. No wonder he'd plucked her out of the air as if she were no more than a dust mote. He was enormous.
"My thanks, Elijah," a familiar voice said near her ear as Noah drew her back against his body. Kestra shook her head bemusedly. She'd never been picked up and tossed around so much in her entire life. It was such a strangely feminine thing, to be lifted by men who never gave a second thought as to whether they had a right to do so. They just assumed it was a natural-born privilege.
Kes felt Noah's arm around her waist, holding her back against his amazingly warm body, the sensation of coming home as she settled back against him so overwhelming that she raised a hand to fluff her bangs, hiding the flustered blush that burned cheeks that never blushed. That was when she realized there were more people in the room.
More men, rather.
The healer she recognized instantly. How could she not? His silver eyes and silver hair were a bit on the outstanding side. More importantly, she seemed to be able to see an aura around him now. A lavender mist all around him, dotted with splashes of color rather like random spray-painted graffiti. A quick glance at the others around her told her that everyone else looked normal to her.
Another man who was slimmer, and yet almost as tall and broad in the shoulders as Noah was, stood off slightly to the right of the healer. He was leaning one shoulder casually against a nearby stone wall, his arms folded over his chest. He had dark hair, either brown or black, and eyes that matched. She could hardly distinguish his irises from his pupils. He held himself with an air of confidence that hinted at the power just beneath his calm exterior.
In a nutshell, she was in a room being dwarfed by the four most powerful men she had ever laid eyes on. This in spite of the fact that she was of significant height for a woman. She suddenly felt at an extreme disadvantage, being held by Noah like some kind of blond-bombshell trophy and looking the part in her silly little dress. Kestra unexpectedly felt Noah's arm drop from around her waist and he stepped around her. She felt a prickling over her skin she was beginning to recognize for what it was. An energy overflow. One that Noah gave off when something disturbed him.
She had somehow upset him. She knew it without a doubt, though she did not understand how. She folded her arms beneath her breasts defensively as he walked to the center of the loose circle they made.
"Kestra, this is Jacob, my Enforcer. Behind you is Elijah, my Warrior Captain. You have met Gideon, our medic. Gentlemen, this is Kestra, my…our latest Druid to join our lives."
"Greetings to you, Kestra," Jacob said, pushing away from his wall and reaching to shake her hand in a gesture that made her feel abruptly equalized. "An Enforcer is what you might call…police. I am in charge of policing our own."
Elijah tapped her shoulder and engulfed her hand between his enthusiastically. "Hey there. I have to say, I'm tickled to death to meet you. I'll enlighten you, too," he added quickly when he saw Noah's scowl of warning over her shoulder. "Warrior Captain means I am the head of our armed forces, as pertains to our defense against foreigners."
"Foreigners?" She said it carefully, her gaze quickly sliding to Noah. He stood stiffly, not helping in the least. "You mean other Nightwalkers?"
"Sometimes. It is complicated. We have a relatively sound peace with all the other races at the moment, but like with any society, that has not always been the case. And, of course, there're always other threats."
Light dawned instantly and she spat it out on a bitter tone.
"I am afraid so," he said with honest regret.
"It doesn't surprise me," she said. "I have dealt often with the seamier side of humanity. I don't blame you for taking precautions or actions to protect yourselves."
"Hey, Noah, I really like her!" Elijah exclaimed with a laugh, chucking her in the shoulder hard enough to make her step back in spite of having her feet braced.
Kestra merely nodded to Gideon as she contemplated this new information. It had never occurred to her that Demons would look on humans as enemies. She had the knee-jerk reaction to go filing through Noah's mind for information, but she also found herself feeling as though it would be an invasion since he seemed unreceptive to her at the moment. What she was left with instead were the only memories she had of Noah's interactions with other humans. The encounter in Sands's penthouse. He had killed both of those men without batting an eyelash. Of course, they had also been massively armed with an intent to kill her and she would be dead if not-
That thought ended abruptly and she looked up to meet Noah's eyes. His gaze was infinitely softer this time and she saw his subtle hand gesture near his thigh. A calming press of his hand downward. A signal to ease her thoughts and to focus on the moment. Explanations and information could come later. He needed her…wanted her to stay in the moment and not tangle herself in trying to understand Demon motivations.
The group moved toward the desk set back by some colossal bookshelves, equally enormous leather-bound volumes stacked into them. Two chairs sat in front of it, one behind. She only had to look at the wide comfort and mellowed wood of the chair behind the desk in order to picture Noah sitting in it for hours on end. The armrests shone yellow-gold where the years and his hands had worn at the wood of the sturdy oak. The cushions, royal purple velvet fabric, had that soft paling of wear in the pile that bespoke frequent use.
Noah didn't round the desk to take his familiar place, opting to lean back against the front of the desk. Jacob took a casual seat in front of him. The rest came closer and stood like sentinels, waiting for Noah to begin. Instinct galvanized her, and she moved to the desk and hoisted herself up onto it, her hip near Noah's hand. They exchanged a look but no thoughts. The prickling had stopped and she could feel that he'd calmed down.
"Very well, gentlemen, let us get this finished. We all have…places to be and personal engagements." Noah had not meant to hesitate midsentence, as if it were some kind of leering, manly innuendo.
Damn it. He was editing his language of the word mate, purposely, so as not to make Kes feel pressured in front of others. Even so, she had come up with that blond-bombshell crack in that thick skull of hers. He had been truly peeved about that. Unusually short-tempered, actually. Eventually, after a few seething minutes, he had appreciated that unreserved affection with one's mate was a cultural difference she would not be used to. Demons were very open about their mates and their importance. Affections, and even the outright acknowledgment about where they would all be ending up after the Samhain celebration, were commonplace. Had Bella or his sister been present, each would be held with far more blatant love and intimacy by her male counterpart than a simple arm around the waist. It was simply their way. A way, he tried to realize, that was practically an alien concept to Kestra. She was not used to affection of any sort. She had come a great distance in a short amount of time in their private moments, and he had to acknowledge that.
"We have a report of the Vampire rogues," Elijah began as soon as he had total attention, his no-nonsense tone abruptly intimidating in the wake of the easy, almost jovial personality of moments ago. Kes was instantly aware that title of Warrior Captain was a far more physically invested position than, say, an American four-star general would be. "Tristan sent word to Siena of a death of one of the younger generation of Shadowdwellers. He was found with his throat ripped out in a human city. Tristan said the subsequent investigation and autopsy were a disaster. The rogues have exposed the 'Dwellers to humans in a way no one has ever done before."
"Does Tristan need help with damage control?"
"His emissary said they had it under control, but you know how these things go. When innocents are involved, you can't just kill off everyone who got a whiff of forbidden information."
"A few Mind Demons might help," Noah insisted. "Erase some short-term memories."
"Tristan said he had it covered." The giant shrugged a huge shoulder. "You can offer, though."
"Shala has gone home for the holiday," Noah mused, speaking of the Shadowdweller Ambassador. "I will make the offer through her when she returns tomorrow. Hopefully it will not be too late to be effective by then." Noah turned to Jacob. "How goes the hunting?"
Kestra could tell there was a wry sort of pain behind that statement. This time she didn't resist her impulse. She sank into Noah's thoughts and found out about this other, more sinister side to the Hallowed moons. The side where burnt caverns were no longer enough, control was lost, laws forsaken and morals discarded, and the Enforcer sent to lay down the law against his own people. Sometimes, battling them, the Enforcer would put his very life on the line in the name of protecting innocents, the laws of his King, and the transgressing Demons themselves. And then the retributive punishment that Demons deemed unspeakable. She had only gleaned glimpses of these awesome responsibilities in her earlier forays into Noah's troubled memories of the Hallowed moons of the past few years, and the very tangible troubles that made the actions of the Enforcer so very necessary.
There was more information still, a link to further understanding his father's death, but she knew he was reliving every thought and memory she touched in him. Since she didn't move as silently through his mind as he did through hers, she didn't want to disturb his composure. Noah's hand left the desk and reached out to link fingers with hers. Kestra felt his silent gratitude, so she couldn't even feel embarrassed about the small affection.
"I have no active beacons at this time, but I have a few warnings. As you know, I cannot tell until it is almost too late who it is. I have noticed a few twitches, and I will keep watch."
Elijah snorted with laughter. "Who's sitting the little hellion so you and Bella can pursue…ahem…twitches tonight?"
Kestra's eyes grew wide and she bit her lips in a repression of shocked laughter as her gaze swung to the austere Enforcer.
"And I suppose your little pussy cat is not going to get the lion's share tonight?" Jacob flashed back, the barb partly some kind of play on words that went right over Kestra's head, but she got the meaning well enough.
She looked expectantly at Elijah.
"Gentlemen." Noah's halting demand ended the sparring. "We all have multiple responsibilities tonight. I would like us to try to manage them with a modicum of maturity. Gideon, anything to add?"
"Only this. The rogues are killing, not merely feeding. There is no telling how this will affect their powers. I think there should be a serious warning placed out over the network."
"I will send Jasmine to start the chain," Noah said. "Anything else?"
All three men shook their heads.
"Great. See you at the festivities. Let us try to enjoy this holiday."
Kestra felt him squeeze her hand. No sooner had she smiled at him, though, than a massive arm swept her from the desk and urged her across the room toward the fireplace. She barely touched the floor as she followed Elijah. She didn't have much of a choice.
"So, tell me all about you. You're spunky, right? Tongue like a blade? You're in good shape for a human…err…Druid, I mean. That's a compliment, so I hope you are taking it that way." Before Kestra knew it, she was seated in front of a cozy fire and Elijah had pulled a chair up across from her so they were only a foot apart. She glanced up in search of Noah, but he was speaking with Gideon.
"Do you always ask so many questions?" she finally managed to interject.
"Only under special circumstances." Elijah's eyes sparkled with humor and it was too infectious. She grinned back at him as he leaned conspiratorially forward. "My mate gave me specific instructions to find out all about you, and I have to say I am damn curious myself. You don't mind, do you? We've all waited a very long time for you to come along."
"Actually, I'm an extraordinarily private person," she hedged. Again her gaze shifted to Noah. His darkening expression made her wonder what he was talking to the medic about.
"Noah, the next occasion you require my services, I ask you tone down your call. Legna found the power…extreme. Painful." Gideon tried to broach the subject he hadn't had an opportunity to discuss before then with as much gentleness as he could muster. A gentleness that had not existed in him and would not exist in him had it not been for his mate.
Noah's full attention came around to the medic, his eyes finally leaving the figure of his mate, who was being herded across the room by Elijah.
"Painful?" It took a moment for the information to register on the Demon King. "Was she harmed?" he demanded. He knew how sensitive his sister's powers had become since she'd mated with Gideon. He was a powerful Ancient, and the infusion of his power had advanced her ability beyond her years. It had never occurred to him that his pain would harm his sister when she was so far away in a Russian province.
"It was nothing I could not heal." Gideon paused a beat and Noah had the feeling the Ancient was editing his next thoughts. It wasn't like him to do so. Gideon was as blunt and straightforward as they came. If he was holding back, Legna was behind it. "It was quite a feat for a nontelepath to reach that far and with that much…clarity, Noah."