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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
She suddenly felt the Vampire on her heels, running after her, not caring that he was forcing himself to bleed into his belly by exerting himself. His speed was unbeatable, but she had to try. She hurdled perfectly groomed bushes and hit straight lawn.
Suddenly she felt hands like talons catching roughly at her shoulders, and legs wrapping around her waist. She was soaring upward a second later and she had to quell the screams of fear rising within her, purely because she didn't want to give the creature the satisfaction. She felt Noah's heart leaping into his throat. His inability to hide his fear was terrifying to the point of calm. She watched below herself with fascination as the lawns flew away and the dark English woods cropped up with a rather apropos October boniness to the scraggly branches.
Kestra threw up her arms barely in time to protect her face from the topmost branches of the old oaks and their hapless partners in the crime against her. At the speed with which the Vampire flew, her skin was flayed from her arms and legs, her thin dress instantly in tatters.
Hang on, baby, help is on the way.
She had to believe him. What choice did she have? She needed to get the upper hand, but she could be killed if she dropped from this height. Then again, better this than higher. Or having her blood drunk out of her gaping throat.
I will never let that happen!
Noah's roar of conviction made her a believer. She could feel his heart pounding as hard as hers was, and she understood that he would find a way to help her if it was the last thing he'd ever do. Again that calm hit her, that confidence that his arrogant ways could infuse within her. It was the belief that only an individual of great power had-that he wouldn't be defeated, no matter what the enemy. This was his gift to her, and it was empowering.
Suddenly the Vampire pitched downward, and swallowing a scream as bark tore at her skin, Kestra acted.
She had never relinquished her weapon. With a wrenching movement to free her arm, she twisted her hips away from his bear hug on her and stabbed him right in the face. Kes was aiming for an eye, but she settled for a scream. Unfortunately the letter opener stuck and was left behind as she plummeted to the ground like a stone.
Until a branch not much thicker than an uneven bar zipped up the length of her body and she instinctively caught it. She swung; wood creaked and cracked, and then held. Unfortunately, her arms and shoulders had other ideas. The pain from the beating of the branches went shoulder deep and she couldn't hang on despite a dozen years of gymnastics training. She crashed down to the forest floor, catching more bark and bruises on the way, and finally hit years of leaf litter with a back-breaking crack and a grunt of expelled air.
She was aware of crashing and smashing off to her right.
And then her left.
It was like something out of Macbeth. To her starry eyes and pounding senses it was as though the wood had come alive and gone on the march. The noises were deafening, branches and stars duplicating in a macabre little dance of indecision. Then the night sky and trees were blotted out by the sudden appearance of a pixyish face and an enormous cloud of raven black hair. There was a very small woman leaning over her, hands on her knees as a brace, and she was smiling at her.
"Hi there. You look like you could use a hand."
"Noticed that, did you?" Kes wheezed.
"My name is Isabella. Noah sent me. You're safe with me."
This woman is a beautiful and trusted friend.
There was almost too much admiration in that sentence, and Kestra felt a nasty twinge of emotion in response.
Yeah. Thanks. I can see the beautiful part without the description from you.
I was speaking of her heart.
There was far too much smugness in that thought. Well, Kes hoped he was having great fun at her wounded expense, because she was going to smash his perfect white teeth down his throat later on. So maybe she'd been momentarily jealous. What of it? He'd been alive since forever, and she couldn't even bear to think how many women that meant.
Then she did think it, and instantly wished she hadn't. What the hell was she doing worrying about things like that when she was lying wounded in a forest with a Vampire out there somewhere trying to kill her? God, the man was turning her into mush.
"You're hurt pretty bad. Don't move at all."
"Vampire?" she whispered, shocked that she could breathe to speak.
"Oh, I, umm…" The brunette looked sheepish. "I wouldn't worry about him." Isabella suddenly staggered and dropped to her knees, her hair sweeping against Kestra's face. "Wow. What a rush," she murmured.
"Huh?" It was all Kestra could say, but she had a fine idea of what Isabella was talking about. She knew that look. The look that base jumpers and cliff divers and spelunkers got when they pitched off their ultimate goal in life. It was intoxication and adrenalization and a speedball high all banged into one. Isabella looked like she was ready to lie down on the forest floor beside Kes and contemplate the spinning stars for herself.
I am coming as fast as I can, baby. Hang on until we get you some medical help, okay?
Oh, I'm fine. But I think your girl here is looped.
There was a significant pause, and during it, Isabella had taken, or rather fallen into, a cross-legged position by Kes's head. The brunette snorted a laugh, as if to some private joke, and muttered under her breath.
"Oh, bite me!" she finally said aloud, grasping her knees as her back straightened in irritation. "What was I supposed to do? Invite him on a damn picnic?"
"Are you okay?" Kes asked, breathlessness overwhelming her voice again. She was finding it harder to take each subsequent breath.
"Yes," Bella grumbled. "My husband is bitching me out."
That was the first time it truly occurred to Kestra that there were others who shared the same kind of bond she was developing with Noah.
Kestra gasped in a breath, wondering why she wasn't getting any oxygen. Maybe she was panicking again, or having an asthma attack. But hadn't Gideon said that would be unlikely to ever happen again? And she couldn't be panicking. She felt too calm. Relaxed, even. And the stars were damn pretty framed by the tree branches like they were.
Baby, you are going into shock. Try to concentrate.
Noah and Jacob were streaking toward the closest sanctuary. Their only hopes for all involved were in the Lycanthrope court. It was distant, in the wrong direction-away from their mates, who were both in trouble-but they needed to aid Damien's wife as well. The Lycanthrope court would hold all the answers. A Monk of the Lycanthrope's much-revered Pride would be called on to heal Syreena. Legna could teleport him to the holdings in Romania after taking the image of the location from either Jacob's or Noah's mind. She was powerful enough to do that now.
Then Legna could send Noah, Jacob, and her husband, Gideon, to the English forest where Noah's mate was closing in on death and Jacob's was trying to purge herself of the evil taint of powers she had ripped out of the Vampire who had attacked Kestra, leaving him as weak and helpless as a kitten. A state that would probably kill him in light of his existing injuries at Kestra's hands. No one could help Isabella to do the necessary purge, but her husband needed to be with her just the same. She had never before absorbed such pure evil, having learned to use her ability with great discretion because of the huge psychic consequences.
Noah felt Jacob's fear as keenly as he felt his own. He had asked a great deal of his Enforcers when he had commanded Jacob to send Bella away from the festival and back toward the castle to help Kestra. Both had obeyed without question, loyal no matter what his crimes had been against them.
But even as he and Jacob streaked toward salvation, the only thoughts he could give true focus to were those sliding through the mind of his mate.
I am going into shock, she mused with a mental chuckle. And here I thought I'd forget what it felt like. It's exactly the same. Right down to feeling so damn cold.
Noah felt her shivering, felt her teeth clattering together, both so violent that her eyesight was blurred by the vibration.
You are going to be okay, baby. You are strong and a fighter and you are a part of my power now. That is not an easy thing to damage. Noah hoped he sounded more convinced than his fear was allowing him to feel.
You mean I'm too stubborn to die.
Do not even speak the word, Kestra! he commanded her with ferocity, as if his tone alone would stave off the Grim Reaper. Do not even allow the option to ghost into your thoughts! I will not stand for it!
You know, we're really going to have to discuss this whole "lord of the manor" thing you have going on. I don't respond well to commands.
She was teasing him.
He was afraid for her life and the little wretch was having him on.
Kestra, he warned, his tone so daunting she swore she saw the stormy smoke of his eyes. She sent back the mental equivalent of a derisive snort. She wasn't impressed by his threats. Noah decided to change tactics. Tell me how Bella fares.
Kestra had lost track of the woman beside her as she'd floated in her own world of semiconsciousness. Isabella was sitting with her elbows on her butterflied knees, her face buried in her upturned palms. She was muttering softly to herself, rocking back and forth so that her hair swung like a wild fringe of black silk. She sent the entire image to Noah, knowing it would speak far louder than her words and also knowing he wouldn't care for false reassurances. Kestra suspected Bella's muttering was a rapid-fire dialogue with her husband, one that escaped the privacy of her mind as distress ebbed through her.
What did she do? Why is she like this?
Bella has an extraordinary power. She can steal the abilities from another being and make those skills her own for a while. She has done this to incapacitate your attacker. Bella has never taken in so much corrupted power before. It has endangered her.
Kestra took in one of her small breaths, struggling to hold it in. She was used to risking her body, her life, and even sometimes her soul in the dangers she undertook, but she'd never dragged an innocent into the fray with her. It had always been one of her few true morals.
Hush, Kikilia, hush, he soothed in the softest of tones, feeling and knowing her disturbance instantly. She has come to your aid for her own reasons. One, because I requested it; two, because Jacob requested it; and three, because it is in her nature and in her power to help innocents who are in danger from darkness. This is what she was born to do, who she was born to be. Do not punish yourself because a stranger is merely fulfilling her own Destiny, and that Destiny just happens to cross with yours in this moment. Now hold a thought of me. I strain to maintain this distant contact while moving with such energy burning. We are near. So very near. Hang on.
Kestra didn't understand how he could be too far and yet as near as he claimed. She looked back to the brunette, who she realized had far more understanding of these things than she did. Isabella lifted her head and smiled wanly. She looked terribly pale, a sickly pallor that was nowhere near whatever normal was for her, Kestra was sure. But she did have remarkable eyes, a bright lavender in the silver of the full moonlight. Kestra gasped for another breath, coughed, and didn't even need to taste the blood in her mouth when she saw the expression that crossed the Druid's fairylike features.
"Oh God," Bella murmured, leaning over Kes with concern radiating out of every pore. She instantly reached to tear at her pretty blouse, untucking the silk from her jeans to do so. Kestra recognized the expensive designer blouse, and she wanted to laugh at the incongruity of it being paired with well-worn denims several years out of style. The fact that Bella tore into a six-hundred-dollar blouse without even flinching gave her more understanding about the woman than she'd gotten in all her conversation with Noah.
The small woman used the ragged patch of silk to dab at the blood leaking from the corner of Kestra's mouth. It wasn't even a patch to stanch blood usefully. Isabella had simply done the deed to keep blood from rolling down the sides of Kes's face and into her hair. A gentle, useless kindness, like catching tears. It was meant to have no purpose other than to give comfort.
"Is everyone so nice?" Kestra hitched out the sentence as she reached to lay weak fingers on the arm reaching over her.
"Shh. Don't talk," Bella scolded. She took a moment to contemplate this woman who was dying so quietly on the forest floor. She bit her lip against a surge of emotions, then slowed it all down and sorted it out. There was a blackness of rage, envy, and covetousness that she knew had nothing to do with her own feelings. These were echoes of the Vampire's emotions. She pushed them aside. Her own reaction was still one of anger first, even though she knew it wasn't fair to blame Kestra for Noah's actions. But love for these grand men in her life had already healed a great deal in a very short while. These negative sensations were merely ghosts of what had once been, fading as forgiveness moved to the forefront.
Noah's mate was a gorgeous creature. What Bella would call a polished beauty. Beneath the battering, the bruises, and the debris of half a forest, Isabella could easily tell there was refinement and grace. It didn't surprise her that Noah's companion would be of this type. His sister Legna was this sort of woman, as was his sister Hannah. Destiny could give him no less than what would hold the most meaning to him.
There was a world of woman beneath that polished coating, though. Bella could sense it on a hundred different levels. Had she been too delicate, she would be whimpering, crying, and very likely dead by now. There were ferocity and claws beneath her perfect manicure. Here lies a fighter, Bella thought with surety. There was no luck involved with the precision of the wounds she had briefly seen on Kes's Vampire attacker. She knew that now. Kestra had calculated and executed her attack like the coldhearted killer she'd needed to be in that moment in order to save her own life.