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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Materializing out of the dust, Jacob finally took form across the room from Noah. They had teleported in from opposite sides, Jacob maintaining a dissipated form so he could have the advantage of surprise should the occasion call for it, and also to minimize discomfiture for popping up in the Vampire Prince's boudoir should the situation be a more embarrassing one, albeit one they had hoped for.
Seeing Noah floundering, he knew he needed to relinquish himself to solidity. Noah nodded to the Enforcer, a silent signal, and the Earth Demon closed his eyes, his spirit settling softly into the center of his body, his focus leaving the confines of all things man-made and reaching for the beauty of the natural. He spread this awareness into the room and into the nature around the citadel tower, slowly expanding in radius and intensity.
He suddenly jerked to look at Noah.
"Quick. Light the room. Bright."
Noah reacted without thought, his entire body bursting into flames so blindingly bright that no corner of the room was left dark, forcing Jacob to throw up a shielding hand and to flinch regardless. There was a scream of pain and Jacob and Noah watched as the protection of the shadows was torn away from the Vampire who had now dragged the captive woman to the very edge of a windowsill, only the deeply colored glass preventing his escape. He had been using his stolen Shadowdweller power to become shadow with the Princess in the darkened room. Unfortunately for the devil, it also made light extraordinarily painful to him. He had absorbed the weakness along with the ability. It was a useful piece of information that was taken note of by both Demons.
Noah lit all the torches in the room, dispersing the flames around his body, robbing the Vampire of any further useful shadow. Rows of needle-sharp teeth were lying fully against the skin of Syreena's throat now, as if the Vampire would feed even at the risk of getting caught or losing leverage. His wide eyes shifted warily from one Demon to the other. Noah heard glass cracking as the Vampire leaned his weight against it.
Threats aside, Noah couldn't burn the vile creature while he held Syreena so near. She would be just as badly burned. Unless he was somehow closer to her, he couldn't protect one from flames and destroy the other with them at the same time. His first instinct was to keep the Vampire from gaining the air, from leaving the room, but if they found their way out over the earth, Jacob's abilities would come into play and could make a great deal of difference. The Earth Demon could manipulate gravity, making Syreena far too heavy to lift, but that would only enrage her captor.
Noah felt himself reaching out for the comforting touch of Kestra's thoughts. She was thinking as hard and fast as he and Jacob were, working on even less information than they had, and she had nothing to offer. She settled for sending him supportive thoughts and her confidence that he would prevail.
Jacob, stuck in the same quandary, was examining the enemy more closely, with totally different senses. The Vampire reeked, a stench that Nightwalkers associated with corrupted souls, vile in odor to those with clean spirits. It was a mark of having gone against the natural order of their species, murdering their prey…murdering Nightwalkers for power. Jacob's kind had always been sensitive to this taint. Jacob knew Noah could smell it, and as a hunter, he knew it would make the Vampire easy to track should he escape the room.
A small pane of colored glass popped out of its leaded frame as the Vampire leaned harder and harder against it. The dark colors were meant to block out all light, but now the pane was missing, and the silver wash of the light of the full moon could be seen. Jacob contemplated demolecularization, of either the enemy or the hostage, and knew that without the benefit of touch, the transformation would take too long to prevent any damage the Vampire could do in that brief interim.
Suddenly the Vampire snarled and clamped vicious teeth into the Princess's throat. She screamed behind the hand that bound her mouth. Then, as if she had been planning it, waiting for the necessary moment, she dragged her weight forward just enough to touch the flats of her feet to the floor…and then launched back with all the strength in her willowy frame.
Syreena pushed just hard enough to send their combined weight back into the window, shattering glass and leaded threading and sending herself and the greedy Vampire over the sill and plummeting down toward the rock outcroppings at the base of the citadel. Noah and Jacob burst out of the room after them, rushing to see the Vampire struggle for a minute to keep his prize before realizing it was folly. In a blink he went from Vampire to bird, shocking the Demons with the transformation.
"Mistral," Jacob shouted to his King, and they both understood there had been a murder they hadn't yet heard about. Only a Mistral could change to a bird in such ways, with such speed, excepting the Vampire Prince himself, who had earned the nimble aspect from the blood of his beloved Lycanthrope wife.
Noah broke from Jacob and gave chase to the dark crow that zipped into the cover of the Romanian mountain forests. Jacob speared toward the tumbling Lycanthrope. She streaked too far and too fast ahead of him to be caught, but even as he reached to alter her relationship with gravity, her now-liberated hair streamed out over her skin, finally free to do its natural calling, and she burst into the form of the falcon almost too fast for the Enforcer to perceive. She swooped, defying a craggy death by mere inches, but Jacob knew instantly that her danger was not over. The bird lofted, tumbled, and hit the ground rolling. By the time the tumbling stopped, the Princess was in human form and lay across the shale ground gasping for breath, blood pumping from the gap in her throat.
Jacob landed next to her with a skid of his boots, kneeling quickly to press his hands to her throat in an attempt to stem the flow of blood.
Kestra had been seated before the fire in the Great Hall, feet drawn up under the seat of her bottom. All of her focus was turned inward, helplessly watching Noah struggle to find advantage in an untenable situation. She felt every moment of his agony, the pulse of pain from his memories of his mother throbbing in her throat and belly. It was the first time she'd ever heard those two words enter his thoughts or his actions.
And she realized how right he was. It was a road best not taken, because all that would lie down that path were endless twists and bends that led nowhere but back upon themselves. He would rather live with the regret of a hasty choice than live with wondering how to change the unchangeable. He knew this because of experience, she now understood, because he had allowed a single what-if to plague him for over two centuries.
Kestra's heart clenched with a terrible fear. Oh, he was too good a man. Too noble. Too wise. Too intelligent. Too easily able to love anyone he deemed worthy. So much personal pain and loss over so many centuries. Making choices that ended lives. The years of futility in search of peace. And yet he loved. How could he bear it? How did he willingly give away pieces of his heart, knowing they could be wrenched away so violently? This, over six centuries of life?
When she hadn't survived two decades with the ability to love intact.
Kes turned her eyes onto the burning flames in the fireplace, letting the glare burn at her retinas and blind her. Destroying this exterior sense drew her back to the dilemma facing Noah. She gasped aloud when glass shattered and bodies fell; she felt the swell of rage in the King of the Demons as he gave chase.
"It did occur to me that there is more Nightwalker blood than remembered by most. So glad am I to see it so readily available."
The voice came from close by, not from her place in Noah's thoughts. She leapt to her feet, instinctively cutting herself off from Noah when he needed to focus on his quarry. It was no different to her than shutting off a microphone to conceal her location.
She was blinded by huge spots of changing color in the center of her vision, an effect of staring too hard into the fire. But she heard the soft slide of a sole on marble, the whuff of an eager breath of triumph, and even the rustle of clothing.
Kestra suddenly realized that they hadn't followed the logic far enough. They hadn't considered a two-pronged assault. They had not realized that there were multiple targets, and she was one of them. But how had rogue Vampires learned of her existence?
"Actually, my dear, it was just happenstance. I was looking for a random target. But a Druid…now, this truly is a prize."
Kes felt the clutch and throttle of her heart hammering beneath her breast as a familiar sensation of helplessness washed through her. Vampires had telepathy. He had a direct line into her soul.
No! She was no victim any longer! That girl had died over a decade ago! She had paid her dues with lack of love and affection, with no one to touch her and no one who would care if she lived or died. She had perfumed herself in gun oil and lived in backwater barracks filled with the most terrifying men on the planet just to prove she didn't fear them and wouldn't fear any again. She'd sacrificed pompoms and proms, girlfriends and love.
Lovemaking. A lesson only begun, under large hands that wielded fire in so many ways, yet expressed more tenderness than she could ever truly bear.
No. Nightwalker or no, she would be no one's victim. It was time to put her money where her mouth was. She'd told Noah she knew her enemy, and she would prove it.
"So you have come to lay siege in the castle of the Demon King?" she asked softly, blinking so that her vision would clear more rapidly. "You're ballsy, I'll give you that."
Her adversary laughed, and like radar she used it to home in on him, place and position. Ten feet across the room, northeast, facing slightly away as he perused his surroundings, his voice echoing tellingly into the higher corners of the ceiling.
"Your mind is unusual. It fades in and out of my perception," he mused, as if it were an amusement to him. "You are young, barely fledged," he accused, and by then Kestra could see his handsome pout.
Boyish, slim, and very beautiful, he was an artful deception of looks. However, she could see the avarice in his eyes and knew great strength was hidden in his lean frame. He had hair like silken chocolate, a forelock falling rakishly over his brow. His eyes arrested her, and she was again struck by the lustful greed within them. She was used to that. She'd felt it many times from men of a different kind of power.
She knew this greed.
She cocked a hip, linking her arms behind her back as if she were bound. It was submissive, and it allowed the fullness of her breasts to push tightly into the girlish gingham dress. She paced with him as he moved to peruse Noah's belongings, keeping the same distance between them as he moved and turned, occasionally looking at her as if she were a fascinating dessert on a tray. Whether it was her blood or her sexuality that tempted him, she didn't care. Still, she allowed her hips to sway softly with every step.
"You are not afraid of me," he noted with surprise. "Why is that?"
"Because of who I am," she said, giving a careless shrug. That time she saw his eyes flick to the rise in the hem of her dress as she made the gesture.
"And who are you? Who leaves you here unprotected on a night as dangerous as Samhain?"
"I can protect myself."
He looked at her again, silent, and she imagined he was trying to rifle through her mind for information. His consternation reflected on his face. "What is your power?"
Good question, she mused. She had no idea what her power was or what it would be.
But she thanked him for reminding her of it.
She blanked her mind from his sporadic insights into her thoughts, moving fluidly around the room until she was at Noah's desk. She casually slid onto it, her bottom gliding into the exact spot where Noah had last begun to make love with her. She leaned back on her hands, letting the memory be the only thing guiding her mind as she leaned back on her hands, her fingertips curling softly against a silver letter opener.
"Ah! You are the King's woman!" Her companion chortled with sudden glee as he popped the plum from her mind.
"Yes. Hence my lack of fear." And the reason she'd replayed the memory of their interlude.
"Mmm, true…you must have great power to be the woman of the Demon King."
Kestra crossed her legs, her skirt riding up along with the corners of her lips. He was coming closer to her, and she was thinking of anything other than what she would do next.
Noah chased the twice-cursed crow as a ball of pure flame, a meteor streaking through the sky, scorching tree braches and anything else that got in his way. He was going to burn the bastard's feathers off one by one. He was going to stick a spit right up the middle of his miserable carcass and light the roasting fire himself. The midday sun would seem balmy compared to the fire of his fury.
Within minutes he was toying with the frantically flying Vampire, literally hot on his tail. There was no escaping him now. He would burn all the woodlands in a heartbeat if need be.
The Vampire seemed to grasp that he was defeated in his stolen Mistral form, and with a clumsy change to his natural form, he crashed to the snow and leaf debris in amongst the ever-present bits of shale broken from the Romanian mountain. The fiend of fire that was the Demon King landed with the utmost speed and grace as a wall of flame caged them both in a perimeter so tight that the Vampire cried out and hurried toward the furious King in a last effort to escape its heat.
"Please! Do not kill me! I have…I have information!"
Noah's flame-coated hands lowered to his sides, burning the entire while, and like any flames they attracted the Vampire's attention.
"I have all the information I need," Noah said carelessly. He raised his immolating hands.
"No! You do not! If you did, you would not be here! You would be protecting your home!"
The panicked remark sent a chill through the Demon King like nothing else could, powerful enough to quench all the incendiary ability in his body and soul.