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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
After a minute, there was a roiling explosion, like a focused bomb had just gone off. Kestra suddenly realized that the Vampire had been dealt with, whatever was left of him, with Noah's form of finality. She felt no pity, remorse, or even horror. In fact, she admired his efficiency. She would love to have that kind of firepower at her fingertips. Without using black-market C-4, that is.
You have a very interesting mind. I never know what you will think of next. You always keep me guessing, and you always keep me fascinated.
Unless I try to keep my thoughts to myself. You don't like that.
She felt his hesitation even as she heard him approaching through the woods. She gave him time to think.
I do not mean to be intrusive.
Oh, honey, it's not intrusive. It's new to me. I'm used to privacy. I'm used to hiding my feelings and double-checking what I say before saying it. I would like some privacy sometimes just to mull things over, but I don't mean to shut you out by doing so.
He had marched right up to her as she thought this to him, and now he seized her by the arms and pulled her to his very warm body. The temperature change gave her a wicked chill and she shook like a leaf. He stiffened and looked down at her sternly.
"You need to buy some real clothes," he grumbled, enveloping her in extra warmth as he drew her to his side and led her in the direction of his home.
Kestra happily tucked herself beneath his arm, her arm sliding around his waist as they walked. She realized she was terribly sore still. Her skin was no longer broken, but the bruising was still there, including a tightness around her chest and her newly healed ribs. It was nothing she couldn't ignore, however, and she concentrated solely on using the slow walk to shelter as a way of winding down.
"So you saved the Princess?"
"We think so. We had to come to you, so we do not know how the healer fared. Their skills are not what Gideon's are, these Lycanthrope healers."
"I don't think anyone's could be what Gideon's are."
"True," he relented with a smile. His smile faded as they hit the lawns. Noah stopped suddenly and turned to look at her, his hands grasping the moonlight tendrils of her hair with a sense of desperation. "I thought I was going to lose you tonight," he whispered, his voice so low and hoarse she almost missed the statement. "When I realized I had been tricked, that my guards had failed you, I was paralyzed with fear."
"Noah," she soothed softly, moving to rest her body against his, instinctively knowing he would find great comfort in it. "I'm fine. I took care of myself." Then she relented with a crooked smile. "For the most part."
"You were magnificent," he breathed, drawing her forehead to the fervent press of his lips. "I do not mean for my emotions to indicate you were incapable of…" His eyes slid closed and he could not speak for several beats as those emotions threatened to strangle him.
"Noah," she chided with a soft laugh, "it's okay! I was terrified, too! And you were right, I was a poor match for a creature of that power." She slid her hands up his back, drinking in his vitality with her fingertips. It was good to be alive. It was even better to be with a man who made her feel that life right to the core of her soul. "I'm glad you had more sense than I did about that. Actually," she said with a touch of wonder, "I'm glad that we were able to make sense of it together."
She suddenly withdrew from him, stepping back and looking at him with a strange expression of surprise and confusion. Noah felt cold from her abrupt departure, the sensation almost making him laugh in his shock that she was able to do that.
She shook her head mutely, staying his outreaching hand, and wrapped her arms around herself. He saw a shiver shudder through her.
"Kestra," he said, adding a touch of sternness to his tone, "you are worrying me."
"I…I don't mean to," she told him softly, the pain lacing her tone sending an invisible dagger through his heart.
He wanted to leap into her mind, plow through what was disturbing her, and kill it quickly with whatever reassurances she needed, but he was beginning to realize that she would need a great deal more time than he had needed to adjust to the connection between them and what she considered a fully invasive disruption of her privacy. Over the span of centuries, he had grown used to telepaths and empaths and their easy way with traveling through the psyche. He had also been raised in a culture of bluntness and honesty in words, meanings, and emotions. Kestra was human, and humans had a great many idiosyncrasies when it came to expressing themselves. Privacy seemed to be a key one. One he was willing to respect if it would make her happier.
"Come." He beckoned her with a twitch of his hand. "We are both tired now and in need of rest. There will be time enough for worrying."
Kestra easily stepped forward and took his offered hand. She didn't hesitate to thread her fingers through his, and she felt his relief and contentment at the intimacy. She felt bad for disturbing him, but she hadn't known how to handle her sudden revelation. She'd been skirting the issue since she'd first laid eyes on him, but she'd suddenly understood with clarity a fact she couldn't deny: This wasn't just about sex, or a quirky attraction, or even a mere twist of her fate she'd have to adjust to before moving on. This was a full-blown, balls-out relationship. More so, it was becoming a damn good one. Fast. Too fast.
Kestra closed her eyes, letting him lead her as she struggled with her thoughts. The thing that had thrown her into the comprehension so abruptly had been the understanding that they had argued, yet managed to communicate, and then compromise. Each in their own fashion, each to their own satisfaction and better understanding. Wasn't that what couples did? Good couples? Her heart began to thump in a rapid tattoo of anxiety and she struggled to quell it. How was it she could face a crazed Vampire, but she couldn't remain levelheaded about Noah?
Because she knew how to beat down a Vampire, just as she could beat down any physical challenge. Noah was a challenge of the heart, and a dangerous one at that. An ultimate one.
She stopped short suddenly. So suddenly that it yanked her hand out of his. He turned back to look at her with surprise etching his handsome face.
"I…need to walk. I'm…I need to walk."
The stammered explanation was all she could manage before she ran away from him. Noah was left speechless and torn. With a Vampire threat so soon behind them, it was not safe for her to risk being alone and out of touch with him. Not only that, but in a dress made of a fabric little more effective than gauze, she was going to freeze to death. He swore violently into the cold night. How could he protect her while allowing her the opportunity to protect herself as she wished him to, all at the same time?
How could he give her respect and privacy, yet provide the care and comfort she needed? As well as take care of his responsibilities in the easing of her heart and mind? How the hell could he serve as a true and loving mate when she refused him access at every turn?
She was exhausted, cold, frail after her attack, and twisted into knots he could help untie if only she would let him. What was he going to do? What should he do? Sweet Destiny! He had never been so indecisive in his entire life! How many times had he orchestrated the fates of the lives of others with such glowing success? He had brought Jacob and Bella together, more certain about their success than they had been. He had done the same for Elijah when the warrior had questioned his feelings toward the Lycanthrope Queen. Why couldn't he handle Kestra with the same confidence of thought and emotion? It was making him crazy!
Positive he was going mad, Noah began to pace a wide swath of the lawn, his breath clouding on the air reminding him that Kes was as good as naked in that blink of cloth she had called a dress. He should fetch her back. He should demand she see reason. He should at least bring her a damned coat. He ran both hands through his hair, growling in frustration under his breath. Abruptly, his pacing was disrupted by a sharp implosion of displaced air and the solid body of his sister.
"Legna! What are you doing here?" If he sounded impatient, he did not care.
"Hmm," she mused, swinging back the huge braid of hair that had come over her shoulder during her teleportation. "I am an empath, Noah, and I am your sister. Add a dash of Samhain where it is all magnified, and I believe you will come up with the answer."
"I appreciate your concern, but I have not asked for your interfe-your assistance," he corrected hastily.
"I know you have not. First…" Legna reached out for him with both hands, holding tight when he would have shrugged her off. "Gideon is watching over her in astral form. She is being looked after."
"She will sense him or see him if he is not careful." Noah laughed without humor. "Then she will blame me."
"He will be careful. Trust him as you would trust me."
Noah looked at her with surprise, suddenly jolting out of his self-absorption.
"I have trusted Gideon all my life. Longer than you have even been alive. He was my Siddah, fostering me since I was a boy. Why would you think I do not trust him?"
"Perhaps because you have not been acting like it since the day you discovered we were Imprinted."
Noah was shocked and dismayed right to his soul that Legna would think such a thing. "That is untrue. I have long since accepted your marriage. It was merely the shock of it in the beginning…and because I feared he would be a key reminder for you about…the day Mother died." He reached out to tug her hair out of age-old habit. "Come now, surely you do not believe I hold ill will toward Gideon for stealing you from me?"
"You have been all politeness," she said neutrally.
The flatness of the remark cut him to the quick. His tenderhearted sister, speaking without emotion? His heart filled with dread as he raced through his memories of the past two and a half years of her marriage to Gideon. He needed to know what he had done to make her think these things.
"Legna…" he said helplessly.
"Do you never wonder why Gideon does not visit socially with me when I come? Oh, he attends all Council matters now, and I know you are glad to have his voice back at the Council table," she amended quickly, "but he does not feel welcome in the home of my brother. The home I grew up in and lived in knowing the greatest of love and memories until the day I wed. When was the last time you called on him? I mean truly, in a social capacity, and not when you needed him for some emergent medical or political problem?"
Noah's mouth hung open as he searched his memory for several examples. Surely he had-the man was father to his nephew, his Siddah, his sister's husband-surely he had sought to make time for them socially.
Noah flushed with sudden shame. What was more, he could not believe Legna had said nothing to him before now.
"I do not tell you these things to make you feel bad," she said gently, her love for him coming through powerfully as she reached to smooth soothing hands down his arms. "I only wish to make you aware. I think…I think it hurts him. I think he feels used, though he would never say so outright. You sometimes forget that, for all his age and wisdom, Gideon is still a being of great emotion and love. He may not show it like his wife does, but he is."
"I know," Noah said hoarsely. "I have known him all my life, and I know his love. I am sorry."
"I know you are. Yours is an enormously sensitive soul, Noah. And a passionate one."
Noah instantly sensed the redirection of Legna's comments. She was no longer referring to Gideon. "It is overwhelming to be a receptacle for your emotional extremes. It is mind-numbing to be the focus of your love. This is not a bad thing, my love," she assured him with a soft touch to his warm cheek. "Only, you must allow that for Kestra, there will be an adjustment period."
"I am trying. Legna, I feel as though my hands are tied. I need to protect her, but she sees that as an insult to her independence. One moment she agrees that the threats out in the night are too much for her to handle. The next she runs into the dark, making me stand here impotently because I know she craves privacy. To chase after her would betray her trust in my understanding of that."
"She is not thinking about danger at the moment. You would know that if you touched her mind."
"She does not like my intrusions into her mind. I always thought the intimacy of the touching of Imprinted minds would be a beautiful thing, I always craved it, but she balks at it. I fear she even hates it."
"She is not familiar with it. It is a disturbing thing for humans, one they accept easier with time and when they fall in love with their mates. You have altered her life considerably, Noah, and she is struggling to maintain shreds of her former identity."
"Tell me, Legna, do I press my suit on her, or hold back? Tell her my feelings for her, or protect her from them so I do not scare the hell out of her? One moment she is empowered, the next a frightened chick. Legna, I cannot make heads or tails of it!"
"Easy, darling, easy," she said softly, pitching the power of her calming voice in an effort to relieve her brother's turbulence. "I know that to love a wounded woman is like walking a high wire. Balance is crucial, and so easily lost if you are not careful. But you are the kindest, most patient and loving soul I have ever known. Center yourself. Calm yourself. Try not to let the volatility of the holy moon affect you so. You are letting it run away with you. Be at peace in the knowledge that whenever you have loved someone, Noah, they have always come seeking more. Be easy. Be patient."
Noah felt that peace stealing over him with every word she spoke. Legna was right, of course. She always was. He longed to have it back, that clarity of thought that came with perfect calm. He was being unreasonable, almost like a child in a tantrum, to expect Kestra to fall into line like a good Demon or Druid should. He had promised her patience, but had found it impossible to provide. She kept begging him for it, reminding him of her need of it, and he had barely managed to remember that fact from hour to hour.