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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Kestra tensed briefly in his grasp, but then sighed with acceptance and absorbed his fevered feelings. He had such faith in her, and she couldn't bring herself to shatter that faith, no matter what her fears might be.
"I know you fear dependence on me." Noah laughed low in his throat and she heard the harsh sting of irony. "The truth is that I am dependant on you, Kestra. I hope this is not an added source of fear for you. I know it is a hard responsibility."
"I'm not afraid of you," she murmured softly into his ear. "You may keep trying, but it won't work."
"But I am afraid of me," he said heatedly. "Of me without you. I would not have borne many more holy moons without destroying myself, baby. I know it as surely as I know how sweetly you smell, taste, and feel. My life was half lived before you came into it." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "And now that you are Imprinted upon me, my life will end a heartbeat after yours. It has to, Kestra, because nothing and no one could ever bear the violence of my grief if it did not. Do you understand, Kikilia?"
Kestra's heart was lodged so tightly in her throat that she could only nod against his cheek. Her chest felt as though it was going to burst apart. She was greedily soaking up the ambient heat of his fervent emotions. He tightened her to his body in a snug hug that sealed them together.
"You're just saying that because I'm so good in the sack," she choked out on an emotional laugh.
Noah laughed softly at her tension-defusing humor, but hugged her tighter, eliciting a pleased grunt from her as the air rushed out of her body.
"I hardly have enough data to make that a truthful supposition," he taunted her quietly. "Something we will work on when I return."
She pulled away from him, glancing down at the small group on the first floor awaiting their King's pleasure. She looked back at him, reaching to draw his face between her soft hands.
"I can't believe I'm going to kiss you and send you off to battle like some antebellum romance heroine." She sighed when he smiled, and leaned forward to kiss him softly. Noah immediately drew her closer, needing to take her flavor deeply into his mouth, sweeping her into his senses so he would carry her with him and remember what he would be fighting for, and what he needed to return to more than anything else.
When she finally drew back, flushed and breathless, she reached to tap his forehead.
"Knock, knock," she whispered.
Instantly, Noah opened his mind to her, connecting them as firmly as he could, sharing everything so she would be with him fully in spirit. Then he turned and descended the rest of the stairs, moving to meet his companions in this endeavor.
Stephan was focusing too hard. He could tell because he was starting to feel overwhelmed by all the presence and power milling about the citadel. Everything was becoming a steady, indistinguishable buzz, with no definition or clarity. He telepathed instructions to the guards on the lower levels and quickly moved toward the nearest exit. The moment he stepped out into the cold Romanian night, into the darkness and atmosphere of his homeland, he shook off all sense of the indoors and drew in a deep breath of cleansing refreshment.
He took long strides away from the din of celebration. All was well inside, all protected, and he was due to scan the out of doors anyway. He had to confess that he had a partiality to this side of his duties. Air. Darkness. The life of stars and mountains breathing into him. Mostly, if he sectioned away the court and castle and all that social nonsense, there was the peace of solitude.
And the tremor of trespass.
Stephan's attention snapped to with a crack of neck bones as he whirled about and into a low crouch. There was an intruder on the Prince's territory. One deemed an enemy. The eddy of evil and tainted power fluttered into him like the wings of a swarm of dragonflies. The Vampire launched into the air, flying with ferocious speed away from the citadel, casting soft but firm warnings to the guards left behind him.
It was a single being, one Stephan was more than capable of defeating all on his own, but it did not hurt to keep the others alerted to the trouble. The blond Vampire raced toward the enemy with an enormous surge of excitement flushing through him at the prospect of battle. Life rushed into him, as did power.
He saw his target instantly, a skulk in the shadows. A child's trick. Stephan landed boldly in the open.
"Rubio," he commanded, his voice booming and full of the compelling fear that all in the Vanguard could project, but none so well as Stephan. "Come forth, coward, and meet your fate." Stephan had barely finished the statement when a vile odor wafted through the crisply cold air. It was the stench of corruption.
He saw shadows flutter and he narrowed his glittering eyes, watching for tricks but not concerned enough to go in after Rubio. The weaker Vampire who thought to defy the throne and laws of their people would come crawling out to him.
"There will be order in our world," Stephan said, his voice pitching low, compelling, and seeking the weaknesses in the enemy's spine. "Your taint must be washed away." He beckoned softly, like a priest to a penitent child. "Come and be cleansed."
There was a hiss and a rustle of bushes and Rubio stumbled out of the shadows. The compulsion in Stephan's commands had proven too strong for him. As Rubio stepped closer, a small flock of birds startled, flying up between the two Vampires and then settling somewhere beyond their battleground.
"You think you are so special, so powerful," Rubio growled, struggling for composure amidst fear and the compulsion to kowtow to his sentenced fate. "Even the Vanguard can fall!" he declared.
"The Vanguard will never fall," Stephan intoned. "Strike me dead and another will blossom and grow, using my blood to feed his soul for the hunt." It was the motto of the Vanguard, known by heart for all his centuries, and probably the only truth he felt passionately about.
"I'm so glad you feel that way."
Stephan whirled with shock at the sudden voice at his back. A Vampire, whom he had no sense of, stood there. Suddenly another appeared and another, until half a dozen surrounded him.
The birds, Stephan realized.
Rubio had been but the bait, and the birds the camouflage used to squeeze him between the teeth of the trap.
"So be it," he whispered before the six leapt for him.
Syreena was quagmired in the depths of her sleep. She had spent the first century of her life growing up in a monastery, where everyone went to bed late after a hard night of work, and woke early to greet the dusk. She had learned to sleep hard and sleep fast. Damien had often teased her for her ability to remain nearly comatose once she had committed herself to sleep. He had threatened to see if he could actually make love to her while she slept through it. So far, he had been unsuccessful.
So when she suddenly felt herself being pulled toward consciousness, she only partially resisted it. Syreena was confused, of course. Damien had clearly needed a good hunt and was inclined to disengage himself from her insatiable appetite whenever the opening arose. She was completely understanding of that. He wasn't of her species and wasn't drawn so overwhelmingly at these times as she was. Although he had no problems keeping pace, he also enjoyed his respites when the opportunities presented themselves.
Syreena was lying facedown in her bed, the heavy cashmere blanket barely pulled up over the swell of her backside. She was cold, the tower off their suite making drafts as others entered and exited. It destroyed the valiant efforts of the fire Damien liked to keep burning. She wasn't cold enough to bear the icy touch that fell across her back and backside with a bold sweep, however, and it shocked her into wakefulness with a gasp. It was one of the meanest tricks in Damien's arsenal that he used to wake her, the chill of his hands prehunt on her naturally hot Lycanthrope skin.
But even as she jerked awake and rolled over to throw off the offending hand, a small clang of warning went off in the back of her head. She knew Damien's touch. She knew it like she knew how to breathe, and this wasn't right somehow. She cranked open her heavy eyelids only half a second before a weighty hand sank into her hair, wrapping it into a fist so tight the sensitive strands cringed and she cried out in pain. A second hand slid over her mouth and she had the violent sensation of being lashed to the bed, hands and feet, until she couldn't move, could barely breathe, and the hold on her hair was forcing her visual range in a single direction only.
Her heart raced in panic. She was helpless. With her hair bound, her Lycanthropic forms were lost to her. In four-point restraints, her fighting abilities were few, if not nonexistent. The only thing she had at her disposal was her young ability to cast illusions…and Damien, wherever he was. She was able to see down to her hand on the right side, shocked to see that it was lashed with some kind of thick mist. In fact, the entire floor was covered with a pea soup fog. It was a phenomenon she had seen her sister's husband perform. As a Wind Demon, Elijah had control over all forms of weather.
It was unlikely he would pull such a heartless stunt. He knew how she felt about being bound and helpless, ever since the Demon Ruth had used Syreena as a means to revenge herself on Siena and Elijah. As she was trying to formulate a logical supposition, she felt the heat of a fetid-smelling breath rushing up over the web of her neck and her throat. Her heart gave a jerk at the scrape of canines over her skin. She had been bitten by Damien more than once, and it had always been an ecstatic experience, but this was such a foul sensation that it made her skin crawl with terror. In the blink of an eye she understood. She knew why this attacker had come.
They wanted what Damien had had. They wanted the power of her blood.
"Such a smart girl," a voice whispered beneath her ear, spilling more of that vile-smelling breath across her senses. "One of the best parts about how easy this was is that you have no telepathy. You cannot even call out to him, can you?" He laughed halfheartedly. "So unfit a mate for our Prince. But to each his own. It matters not any longer. And as much as I would love to play, Princess, we must be going."
Where were the guards? What of Stephan? How was it possible that this enemy was able to get into the citadel, never mind able to put his hands on her?
"Dead, Princess. All dead. And even alive they would not sense us anymore unless we wished them to. Come. Time to go for a little ride."
A frightening sensation flowed over Syreena's flesh, as if she were coming physically unraveled, becoming a part of the mist that entrapped her. There was an explosion, then another, a force of air being blown out briefly, then sucking back with a pop that sent the fog in the room swirling madly. Suddenly she saw powerful legs standing in front of her eyes, and she looked up the length of the body until she could see the face of the Demon King.
He said nothing, only reassuring her with a brief glance before a ball of fire exploded into his hand, a tidy round projectile that held meteoric chaos in its center.
"You will back away from her instantly," he commanded, his voice as cold as the fire in his hand was hot.
Noah was horrified to see the Vampire who was phased half in and half out of a mist form. Either way, he was a breath away from the Princess's exposed throat. Mist was lashing her into paralysis, the Vampire's hand tightly seizing her hair. The Vampire chose a form, returning to a solid state, knowing that Noah could harm him either way if he chose to, but that he could best harm the Princess in his more easily powered form.
I will rip out her throat if you even blink, Demon King.
The telepathic voice rang through Noah's brain gratingly, and it infuriated him that the Vampire would invade him so easily. This was an Old One. One who held pure Vampire power of great maturity. Now more power than ever flushed his paled body as he had farmed abilities from unfortunate others.
To punctuate his point, the Vampire leaned a millimeter closer to Syreena, his canines puncturing her skin just enough to cause two dark trickles of blood to roll slowly down her neck. Syreena's eyes slid closed, an attempt to hide her agonizing fear, useless as two large tears escaped her lids. Noah could practically taste her impotent fury. It swelled with volcanic proportions as she felt the Vampire's tongue sampling her blood, a gift meant only for her mate, tainted with violation now.
For Noah it was like suddenly dancing on the oldest, deepest question within his pained heart. What would he have done if he had been there, in that room, when his mother had first been seized by her murderer? How would he have delivered retribution if her fragile life had hung in the grip of an unbalanced mind? Here fate had dealt him that wished-for hand, and now all he wanted was to wish it away; anything to erase the anguish written across the Princess's features.
"I will deliver you to justice, or I will deliver you to hell," Noah warned one last time, the hoarseness of his voice telling enough to make the Princess open her eyes and look at him with wide, charcoal-gray pupils. To his unending agony, he saw forgiveness flashing in those eyes. Syreena was forgiving him, in case he should fail.
"You cannot touch me," the Vampire swore.
And like that, he vanished, the Princess with him, the fog suddenly dissipating around the King's ankles. He clenched his fist, breaking up and reabsorbing the fireball as he quickly sought for the trick. His mind and thoughts whirled through information and experience. It was like dealing with a half dozen Nightwalkers at once, a powerful and frustrating puzzle. At least with a single breed there came a single expectation, a specific set of rules by which these games must be played. This Vampire and those like him who had chosen to corrupt themselves were maddening wild cards.
Noah sought for energy, somehow certain that what he did not see was a glamour, that both were still in the room in spite of his inability to see them. He saw the imprint of the Princess's body heat on the abandoned bed. He even saw the shadow of the Vampire's energy as he had leaned over her. But these were ghosts of the past, and there were no shades in the present. He searched for heat, for energy, and nothing in the dark room, not even a light, showed power.