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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Well, good for her!
Bella smiled and recalled the question she had been asked, using it as a means to keep Kes conscious.
"There are no absolutes. Though we tend to be a little nicer than humans." She watched Kes smile in response to the fair answer. Kestra was trying to reconcile herself to this new world and culture calling to her in Noah's voice. She didn't want pretty promises. She needed truth. "There's danger in this life," Isabella confided softly. "Though I believe it's rather like cost of living from one place to another. Everything's relative. If you earn more in power, expect to pay a higher price when pain comes."
The Druid seemed lost in her own thoughts a moment, and she absently stroked Kestra's snowy bangs. Kes found it surprisingly soothing. She was once again taken aback by how much she'd been touched since coming into Noah's realm, and how easily receptive she was about accepting it. She found it bizarre that so delicate a creature, with her happy features and light touch, could speak so candidly about such deadly matters. Noah's view on bringing her into his world was stilted by his emotions of need. He had not hidden his knowledge of the dangers she could face, but neither had he brought them under any emphasis.
She wished she could express her gratitude to Isabella for her truthfulness.
"Noah has waited a very long time for you," Bella whispered suddenly, leaning closer to Kes as if she didn't want to be overheard. "Believe me, I know the pressure that comes with that. But this path you're on is one of inevitability. Don't think you have a choice in the matter, because you don't. Fate or Destiny or whatever it is has made up its mind about this one single factor in your life, and it can't be denied. It's designed so it can't be denied." Bella took a break, but continued when Kes's eyes continued to pay rapt attention. "A greater power than us has created these wondrous, inexplicably complex men, maturing them in intellect and power until they're at peace with almost everything in life. Their only disquiet is the yearning for the women who will be their complements, and who will begin to lead them on the next stage of their journey.
"So Destiny plucked you and me out of the cosmic soup and told us to be whatever we wanted, but it'd make this single demand on us that we must obey. We must love these beautiful men with all of our hearts." Isabella's voice became breathy and shaky with a rush of emotion, her fingertips coasting all the way through Kestra's hair now. "I don't think that's so much to ask, actually. It's sort of like commanding us to eat chocolate during PMS. You don't exactly want to refuse a dictate like that." She hushed Kes when she laughed painfully. "My point is, you have to resign yourself to the fate of being a Druid, of spending your life always connected to Noah. Not controlled by, not dependant on, not indebted to, or any of that feudal bullshit they can revert to every now and then, but a partnership with someone who's been chosen to be your perfect complement. Course, they think we are their perfect complements…but it's the other way around.
"When you accept that, Kes, then you find something better than chocolate. Better than life. Better than anything." She sighed and Kestra saw joy illuminating her features, an expression unlike anything she'd ever seen on a woman before. "Imprinted love is love on a cellular level. It's a matching of genetics, but it's a weaving of souls as well. It isn't even what humans think soul mates are. It's beyond that. Beyond the ecstasy of the body." She broke off into an aside. "Although if it stopped right there, I wouldn't be complaining." She traded a smile with Kestra. "There is peace in this life. As much as you see the warfare, the peace is just as powerful. I want you to understand…to know…how very, very lucky you are to have Noah."
No sooner had she finished this statement than an enormous explosion of displaced air blew back weeds, brush, and debris, forcing Bella to curl her body over Kestra to protect her from the fallout. She looked up to see her King, her husband, Gideon, and Legna with Seth settled on her hip standing in a small clearing just a few steps away. She sat back, allowing Jacob to rush into her arms, hugging him so tightly that his breath compressed out of his lungs.
It wasn't until Bella let out a sob that Kestra comprehended how upsetting the entire situation had been for her. She didn't strike Kestra as the overly weepy type, so she had to admire her for her ability to hide her trauma. It touched her to know that the other Druid had put her own pains aside to take the time to reassure her about what it meant to join the world of Demons.
Trying not to get choked up herself, a condition she told herself was caused by her current state of injury, she turned to look up at Noah when he scooped up her hand and leaned over her, concern etched in every inch of his features. She was lost the moment she saw the expression in his eyes. The pain and regret, the guilt and tragedy…and most of all, his unabashed love for her.
Suddenly tears were welling out of her eyes, dropping into her hair, her repressed urge to sob causing agony to rip through her rib cage and lungs. Then she felt long, cool fingers sliding into her hair, the contact incredibly soothing. She blinked to clear her vision and looked up to see Gideon leaning over her from his position on his knees behind her head.
"Tears are not recommended, Kestra," he chided. "You cannot breathe because you are bleeding into your chest and it has been slowly compressing your lungs. It will be healed shortly."
She appreciated the information, but she'd already known that. She turned her attention back to Noah as she felt a tingle skip across her scalp. She squeezed his fingers in reassurance and then glanced over to Isabella and Jacob. A lovely woman with a huge braid of coffee-colored hair had knelt beside them and was handing a baby to Jacob. She then picked up Bella's hands and closed her eyes as if concentrating.
Gideon and Noah spoke at the same time, drawing her attention. She found herself laughing on an easier breath as they exchanged wry smiles over her prostrate body.
"She should not have brought the baby," Noah reprimanded Gideon.
"You saw me try to discourage her. You know your sister bears your trait for stubbornness," was the calm retort.
"You clearly did not try hard enough."
"I did not see her listening to you, either," Gideon pointed out.
"You have allowed her to become far too willful," Noah complained.
"I dare you to say that within her earshot," Gideon said with as much evenness as ever, though this time his silver eyes flicked up to glance pointedly at his King. He looked down into Kestra's eyes with a small smile. "Do not fear. This attitude of chauvinism is not his norm. Legna is the baby of the family and as such has been cursed with Noah's overprotective brotherliness."
"I'm not afraid of him," she said, flashing an impish smile when she realized she could speak and breathe almost normally again. She took a deep breath just for the sake of being able to do so. "And he knows better than to treat me like that."
"Hmm. I believe she has your number, Noah," Gideon mused with far too much pleasure for Noah's liking.
"I will thank you both kindly to shut the hell up," he grumbled. But in spite of the temperamental remark, his grip on Kestra's hand tightened and he brought the back of it to his lips. "Just make her well, Gideon." He brushed pained glances at the wounds that striped her soft skin as if she'd been brutally flogged. She realized then that all of her pain had been his, that he had forced himself to function while absorbing her agony, and had reached out to soothe her and anchor her at the same time.
Emotion overcame her, too much all at once, and she inadvertently jerked her hand free of his to cover her face. She felt panic because she knew she couldn't hide from him. He was everywhere. Everywhere. How could she sort through her own thoughts and feelings privately? Would she ever know total privacy again?
"You only need to ask."
The remark was bitten off with more chill than the October air. She dropped her hands and looked at Noah with surprise. His expression had turned to stone, a mask of hurt and anger she felt welling up from him. Confused, she tried to understand what had effected this change. Noah wasn't the unreasonable type. He would understand her thoughts about wanting privacy. So why this hostility so suddenly?
The word was whispered from above her, Gideon's head bowed close in supposed concentration as he healed her. When he whispered the single word into her ear she suddenly remembered. Everything was magnified. For her. For him. For all of them. They'd all suffered attacks and stresses tonight that made her wonder how they could all seem so calm and so controlled. All save Noah, at the moment. His struggles went deeper somehow. Something unsettled him.
And she knew she was responsible.
Kestra looked around at the faces of those around her, felt the eyes that were surreptitiously being cast toward their monarch. But beyond that she understood there was a sense of complete serenity between the other two couples. It was the peace of mind that came with total confidence in the love they shared. She couldn't offer Noah that measure of confidence and security, and she was sorry for it. This was the root of his outrage: her inability to commit herself completely into his trust. It conflicted with his desire to care for her, to comfort her. He couldn't bear the gray area because he was afraid he would make unreasonable demands on her or would try to force her to feel for him, and where would be the security in that?
Kestra reached out to touch his arm, the hard muscle twitching beneath his skin. He turned eyes of emerald fire and dark smoke onto her and she heard a menacing rumble of sound escape him. She didn't let it faze her.
"Please," she said softly, making sure she drew his attention, "just be patient with me."
The simple request seemed to take the wind right out of his sails. He expelled a pained breath, emotion shuddering out of him physically, his body hunching forward with exhaustion of both the mind and spirit. He'd spanned the world trying to help others tonight. He didn't have the strength to help himself. Instinct reigned, emotion its partner, and the man of learning and logic was subverted by fatigue and the Hallowed moon.
Kestra was finally able to sit up. She felt strange, like a rag doll having been knitted together. She was also tired. She realized Gideon burned as much of her energy as he did his own in order to heal her.
"The rest of your body will heal by tomorrow evening. It is best to let you regenerate on your own power."
"Thank you," she said, taking another deep breath just to reassure herself. She placed a hand of warmth and comfort on Noah's shoulder. He sat back on his heels, his hands fisted atop his thighs, his dark head down. "Noah, let's go and rest now." Then, more softly, hoping only he would hear as she leaned close. "I need you to hold me."
He looked up sharply, searching her gaze roughly, her thoughts as well, checking to see that she was sincere and not just tossing him bread crumbs. She remembered not to be offended, allowing herself to simply feel peace within her own mind and let him deal with it as he would. They couldn't afford for them both to be hotheaded tonight. She was done with warfare for the evening. Now she wanted peace, and quiet, and tenderness. Kestra met his gaze, her mind full of images of them snuggled warmly together, of comfort and companionship and her terrible need that she honestly felt only he could fill.
The change that came over him was miraculous. His sullenness and hostility vanished, his features lighting up with the gift she had meant to remind him of.
There was hope.
If only he would be patient, help her enjoy her life slowly, day by day, then there was hope he would find in her what he needed as well. She needed faith, and he needed hope. They could give it to each other if only they had patience.
Kestra and Noah both took deep breaths of the crisp night air, exhaling twin clouds. Then Noah looked to his companions. He stood up, helping Kestra, and walked over to his sister and the Enforcers who still sat on the forest floor. Gideon also crossed over, taking his son from Jacob and checking him for sufficient body heat.
"How are you faring, Bella?" Noah asked.
"Better." She gave an involuntary shudder and Noah caught a meaningful glance from Legna. "I still feel like he's crawling around in my body. The corruption…But so much power, Noah," she breathed, her eyes brightening. "You can't imagine what it was like. It was a Nightwalker cocktail, poisonous but a force to be reckoned with. I'm the only one…the only one who will be able to stop these Vampires if they take the time to learn and master what they steal." Her eyes seemed to glaze over as she muttered softly under her breath for a moment, making Jacob look to Legna with concern.
"She is overloaded," the empath said in dulcet tones. "It's like an overdose, of both power and of evil. She has purged most of the power, but the stain of blackness fights to gain foothold within her. She will win eventually because her psyche is so purely good, but I think it best if I go home with you and help guide her. She will be herself more quickly this way and can find peace."
"Agreed," Jacob said, reaching to scoop up his wife as she drifted out of lucidity.
The group gathered close to Legna, but she hesitated briefly to speak to her brother. "Be at peace tonight, Noah."
They all disappeared with a sinus-popping jolt.
Kestra sighed, feeling suddenly alone in the looming woods, in spite of her powerful companion.
"Actually, I need to leave you for a minute for a little unfinished business." He gave her a smile and kissed the corner of her lips.
She watched him stride off, and as soon as he was gone she shivered madly. She hadn't realized he had been using his body heat to keep her warm. Or his power. Either way, she now stood in a ridiculously tattered dress, making her wonder what she had been thinking when she had gone shopping. She folded her arms to her body and watched until he disappeared out of sight.