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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Frankly, if Syreena was anything to judge by, Lycanthropes had a fair sex drive themselves. On par with Vampires, if not-and he would never have thought to say such a thing-exceeding it. He had not seen so much as a hair on Damien's head for the past four days. Their telepathic contact a moment ago was the most he'd heard from him in all that time, except for a hastily prescribed instruction to take over the rounds of the territorial borders until otherwise ordered. He supposed they were taking advantage of Jasmine's absence. That woman made no bones about how she felt about Damien's marriage and the can of worms it had opened, but Jasmine blamed Syreena for the entire boatload, whereas Stephan was more inclined to lay the majority of the blame at Damien's doorstep.
Still, he could hardly complain. He'd been fairly bored up until Damien's marriage, even considering going to ground for only the third time in his life until a more exciting era came along. In all honesty, all of this peace was bad for a soldier's disposition and attention threshold. Sure, he could train and learn various war forms and run drills and all that, but he was 633 years old. Exactly how much could a person dedicate to the same calling, and for how long, with no one or nothing to exercise the skills upon? Sometimes he missed the eras of serious warfare. Human wars were amusing. Damien had always loved a good human war and would take along all comers for the party back in the day. But after a thousand years, Damien had grown tired of losing his companions on the battlefields and had become peace loving.
The best had been the war with the Demons. That had been an awesome century for battle. The Demons were extraordinary fighters and cunning strategists. Their keenest skill had always been the ability to reason out their enemy's movements and plans of actions-an impressive trick when the Vampires were fully telepathic and Mind Demons had barely begun emerging at the time.
Yes, he had loved warring with the Demons. He'd only been two hundred some-odd years old at the time, just a minor soldier in the Vanguard, but that was how he had begun to make his name for himself back in the day.
This domestic protection gig was not his scene. This was Jasmine's territory, watching Damien's back. She was like a cat, able to sit and watch for prey for hours, just waiting for the bat of an eyelash to pounce. He found it boring, making the same circuit again and again. He longed to be out on the network. Sure, it meant hunting his own, but a battle was a battle, an enemy an enemy. No matter what, he would always be loyal to Damien. His area of expertise was in the defense and offense against those with Nightwalker powers, and if lawbreaking Vampires started accumulating these powers for themselves, he and the Vanguard were by far the best solution.
He decided to send an exterior guard up to the tower turrets to guard the exterior access to the royals' bedchamber until they saw or sensed Damien's return. He felt infinitely better knowing there was now extra protection for the Princess, and he turned his attention elsewhere.
Cygnus received the message the moment Damien crossed the border of his territory, heading out to hunt. The Vampire Prince wouldn't circuit his borders until he had been refreshed by prey, habitually choosing to not face any potential dangers without nutritional fortification first. It was what any Vampire would do. And therein lay their advantage.
Hiding from the Vanguard had been no easy trick, but Damien was the only true wild card. No Vampire could claim equal skill in detection of a threat as Damien. With the exception of perhaps Jasmine. She had an uncanny sense, that one did. But she was all the way in Demon territory, tromping over the Demon murder scene with the rest who had come to investigate it and to try to track him and his gang. His spy in Noah's lands had telepathed as much to him, and he had known it was soon going to be upon him to make his move.
The only significant risk at the citadel now that Damien was gone was Stephan. Even though the Vanguard leader was ensconced in the celebration on the first levels of the citadel, he would be on full alert and would instantly be aware of any and all intrusions. However, Cygnus's comrades were ready to cause a distraction that would lure Stephan elsewhere. Then the attack would take place, completely undetected, before Damien was even flushed with the heat of his prey.
"I don't understand!" Kestra fumed, stalking after him, running to keep up with Noah's hasty, ground-eating strides.
"That is just my point, Kes. You do not understand. If you comprehended the power of the creatures we were going to face, you would not dare make such an insane suggestion!"
"Will you stop and look at me!" she yelled at him, panting softly from their third circuit over the stairs to the second floor and back. Although it was more about being furious with him than it was about being winded.
Noah stopped midflight of stairs and obliged her, looking at her face, if not entirely into her eyes, his clouded gaze hooded by the length of his thick lashes. He finished tugging on a leather wrist sheath with its tiny knife tucked within while he waited impatiently for her to continue.
"Thank you," she managed to say, even though it wasn't quite the full attentiveness she'd wanted. She was suddenly learning that Noah could shadow his thoughts from her when he wanted to. His age, power, and experiences with a Mind Demon for a sister had given him an advantage over her. Now she couldn't even force him to reveal his true feelings.
"Noah, I think I have been in your mind thoroughly enough to know exactly what you will be coming up against. I'm not-"
"Reading a memory and accepting a concept is nothing like feeling the strike, feeling the supernatural power of a being in comparison to a human being, which, I remind you, you will always share fifty percent of a heritage with." He stepped up to her and finally made eye contact, his smoldering temper a breathtaking wall of hot emotion that she could feel against her skin and scalp. "You are not coming, Kestra, and that is my final word on the matter."
To her shock and outrage, he turned his back and continued to descend the stairs.
"Your final word?" She stormed after him, fury flushing her features. "Does this look like the damned Crusades to you?" she demanded. "Do you think I'm going to just sit here doing…doing embroidery or something while you wage war, praying you come home in one pigheaded, chauvinistic piece?"
She screeched to a halt when he whirled to meet her abruptly.
"Do not even dare to label me in such a manner!" he roared into her face, the blast of his emotions manifesting in a hot explosion of air that blew back her hair and clothes violently. "There is not a woman among my people who would dare, or have cause, to utter such a thing! How am I to believe you have even the smallest idea of the enemies we go to face when you cannot even master the simplest understanding of your mate's personality?"
"Oh, I don't know," she huffed sarcastically, hands on hips, head tilted, "maybe…mmm…gee, maybe because I've only been in your magnificent presence for a max total of three days? Only one of which I have had access into that thick skull of yours! You aren't even listening to me!"
"I listened to you, Kestra. Your input and logic were invaluable to me tonight, and I thank you for it with all of my heart." This at least he said with sincerity, but it didn't change the stubborn set of his mouth. "But you will not come with us to battle power-drunk Vampires. You have no defenses, no offenses, and would basically be little more than…than a walking blood supply! I will not watch you get your throat ripped out, and I will not be bathed in my Imprinted mate's blood!"
These last statements were the ones she had truly been after, and Kestra sighed as he finally confessed them. She reached out to slide a hand around his upper arm muscles, drawing close and ignoring how hot he was with his overflow of temper.
"Noah," she said softly, causing his eyes to turn instantly troubled as she looked straight into them from her position a step above him on the stairwell. "If it's fear of my death or of my injury motivating your actions or reasoning, then I would appreciate you saying so, rather than disparaging my capabilities to face and understand my enemy."
He looked into those stunning blue eyes of hers while his body shook in a fine shudder against hers. Agitation and terror fueled the tremor. He'd been doing too much soul searching since he'd come close to her, since she'd begun to share his mind. He was too recently inundated with memories of beloved women who had been victims of violence. Each time she begged him to take her with him, he felt the terror of losing her, of finding her with her pristine white hair lying in a sea of blood. Then there was that awful moment, the memory he couldn't banish, of her very own death. A gun muzzle shoved against her fair head, forcing her spirit explosively from her body as she went limp and fell into a lifeless sprawl on the penthouse floor. Worse still, the vision of a rapist thrusting a butcher knife into her womb.
So much pain and abuse, so much horror, and he couldn't bring himself to purposely expose her to more. Expose her to beings of corrupted power and their perverse propensity for toying with their food before killing it? No.
Noah knew it wasn't fair of him to hold her responsible for his inability to cope with his fear of her being harmed. After all, she'd survived a very long time, most of it unscathed, as a Marine, a mercenary, and extreme sports fanatic. She had gleaned so much information in so short a time, had managed to so easily slip into a military intelligence mind-set, able to grasp strengths and weaknesses of Nightwalkers enough to reach high levels of conceptualization and reasoning.
She was right. He knew very well she was well versed enough in the ways and means of Nightwalkers, able to plot out intelligences for and against them, to decipher and profile their logic. She was completely aware of what she would face should she end up face-to-face with any Nightwalker with enemy intent. But even he didn't fully understand what he was going to be facing this night, the unpredictability of the rogues making this an exceptionally hazardous venture.
Her comprehension of their enemies wasn't the issue, and she was right to call him wrong for trying to make it one. But it was more than just his fear of her coming to harm, although that in and of itself was enough to compel him to lock her up like the chauvinist she'd just accused him of being.
Noah was a being who sought peace above all else. This mission was about protection and redemption. It was about removing a threat. An unwelcome and distasteful task, but a necessary one.
Kestra was just hungry for a conflict. Yes, she understood the morals of the situation and was on the proper side of the issue. However, while her morals might be sound, her motivations were skewed. She was thinking only of a woman in jeopardy at the hands of males and the opportunity for retribution. She wished to play the role of an avenging angel. She didn't realize her own motivations, or how dangerous it would be to indulge in them.
"Kes." He swallowed hard, searching for words that usually came so easily for him. Where was his effortless diplomacy when he needed it so badly to ease his way with her? Truth. It was so hard to speak the truth. "Yes, I fear for you." He reached up and palmed the nape of her neck until he had drawn her forehead to touch his. He sighed deeply with the contact, feeling relief for some reason. "I fear your being hurt. I disapprove of your vengeful motivations for wanting to be a part of this. And in spite of your exquisite intelligence and unquestionable skills, you are not up to this. Even I am uncertain of everyone escaping this conflict with their lives."
She was silent for a long minute and he lifted his head so he could see her eyes. Her mouth was set in a grim line, her eyes averted from him, a tense muscle stretched taut in her jaw. Then her sharp, cool eyes flicked up to meet his gaze and he saw acceptance seated firmly within their breathtaking facets.
"These are arguments that I can accept and understand, Noah. I'm not happy that you feel the need to insulate me from danger, but I can understand it and I can also work with you on it. As to the rest, your reasons are sound and logical. I only wish you had been this honest to begin with and saved us argument and misunderstanding."
"I must apologize, Kikilia," he said softly, "for my behavior. My emotions have the better of me lately."
"I know," she said gently, wrapping her arms around his neck and settling against him. He automatically reached to hold her snug against himself, drinking in her scent and vitality. "I'm trying to remember that. Everything is so volatile lately. My head is buzzing with it all."
Her mouth drifted down onto his and his entire body lurched with excitement even before he felt her lips. Heat crawled up his neck and face, warming both their mouths as he met her kiss with a tangle of tastes and tongues. This, he sighed, is what I should be doing today. It was Samhain, and he should be doing nothing more than slowly drinking in the flavors and the heat of his mate.
"I am Fire, Kes," he said in a fierce whisper against her lips, "and it is Samhain. It is the worst time even for me to consider battle. I would rather be here, focusing these passions inside me toward making love to you all night until you begged me to stop. But I cannot do that."
"Well, of course not. I would never beg you to stop," she countered, licking his lips teasingly when he laughed at her. She sobered softly, though, meeting his turbulent eyes. "And I could never enjoy such a thing knowing another man could lose his wife because I selfishly kept you by my side. I'm not that type of woman. I'm not one who would beg you not to risk yourself."
"I never thought you were," he assured her. "I only meant to point out that with the volatility of Samhain upon me and my element, I will be capable of emotions and brutality none of my kith and kin have ever seen. I have but one anchor in this world to keep me to my senses and hold me to the code of honor that means everything to me, and that is you. I need you here, connected to me and within my mind." He touched his forehead briefly and then drifted a finger through the bangs on hers. "Your clarity, your logic, and your intellect will guide me back to my peace of mind if I overstep my emotions." His hand engulfed the back of her head and he pulled her close until her ear was beneath his lips. "You," he breathed into her soft hair, "are my tether to this world now. I have waited for you for a hundred lifetimes, praying to Destiny for a woman of strength and courage who would one day temper my soul, ease my way in this world, and She has finally answered my prayers."