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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
"Adoption, fostering, hell-babysitting, if you dig that sort of thing. Kes, Noah loves you. He will never want for anything more ever again. The day he knew you were going to be his, he became rich and content. Anything else is…"
"Icing?" She laughed, her heart easing with something that felt a lot like contentment.
"Yeah," he chuckled. "And maybe the occasional candy flower."
Noah turned over in the bed, the remnants of pain creeping into his waking mind. He opened his eyes and groaned softly at the ache wrapped around his chest. His frantic mate had broken several of his ribs in her enthusiasm to revive him. Not that he was complaining, but there was no Demon medic at the citadel. They had been forced to settle for the skills of the Lycanthrope Monk whom Damien had decided to keep permanently on staff for his wife. It was all they had needed, really; their advanced self-healing skills were more than able to do the rest within a day or two.
Recalling how deeply wounded Kestra had been as well, he suddenly came to full wakefulness and rolled over to find her on the other side of the bed. He gasped when he moved too fast, and his hand snatched up to his left side beneath his arm. He wasn't awake enough yet to steel himself against broken ribs, a bruised chest and heart, and lungs badly abused by water and dirt he could still taste in the back of his throat. Still, he felt a hell of a lot better than he had the night before.
He recalled his search for his mate and looked down at the bed.
His brows knit in consternation and he instantly searched his mind for her.
He felt a new pain in his chest when the sadness he heard in her voice kicked him hard in the heart.
Where are you?
The east tower.
Well, at least she wasn't trying to hide from him, he thought with a frown as he tossed back the sheet and other bedding. He realized then that he had no clothing, his having been ruined the night before.
There's a robe in the closet, baby.
The simple domestic courtesy of her thoughts made him feel marginally better. She knew he was coming to her and her assistance told him she did not mind. The nickname, as always, soothed almost all ills. He found the robe and, not able to change form with so much damaged tissue in his body, he set about trekking to the east tower.
He was a little winded when he reached the top of the tower stairs, but the freezing-cold wind whipping over the turret was what truly took his breath away. Kestra was dressed the same way he was, in a simple terry robe, and had evidently been standing up here for quite some time. When he reached to touch her, she was nearly frozen.
"Merciful Destiny, Kes! You feel like ice!"
Noah stepped up to her, pressing his front to her back, shivering at the difference in their body temperatures in the instant before he began to warm them with his power. He was afraid he would never understand why she did this. Did she not feel the cold, or did she do it on purpose as some kind of mental test or punishment? He could not tell.
"What is it, baby?" he asked, pressing a kiss on her ear near the stitches necessary to close the deep slashes she'd endured.
"It's so stark here," she said, drawing his attention to the mountain landscape that cradled the citadel. It was bleak with coming winter, the area gray with shale and a flat, calmed lake in the distance. Jagged black and gray rocks lined the bottom of the castle. It looked every inch the forbidding Vampire stronghold.
"Do not forget that beyond the ridges lie very lush forests. This spot is chosen for defensibility and its power to evoke superstitious thoughts in the local human populace. It keeps them away."
"This barrenness keeps them away," she reiterated quietly.
"Yes. That and the dominance of the citadel. It is a bit daunting."
"Noah." She turned in his arms, her chilled front coming into contact with his heated one. He kept his hands on her throughout the entire rotation, ending with them resting on the small of her back. She drew a quick breath, abruptly overwhelmed with how beautiful he was. She took a moment to see the life burning brightly in his eyes, cherishing its return to its proper place.
Then she forgot everything she was going to say, trading it for his embrace, her arms snaking around his ribs as she reached for his mouth. He welcomed her readily, eagerly in fact, drawing her mouth deeply under his. Her hair whipped around them in the wind, her chapped cheek cold against the brush of his nose.
Noah watched as Kestra pulled away, her full mouth glistening from his kiss as her troubled eyes flicked over his face. She brushed her fingers through his thick hair, playing with it softly a long minute. Then her hands were on his face, touching his forehead and cheeks, absorbing every angle of his jaw and chin, finally resting her thumbs against his mouth and rubbing them over his lips with precision and care. Then she brushed her fingertips over his lashes and waited for a minute until he looked at her so she could study his eyes.
"You're so beautiful," she whispered, her voice catching in a way that stabbed clean through his heart. Tears welled in her crystalline blue eyes and the situation just about brought him to his knees.
"Kes, tell me what is wrong," he demanded, unable to bear her pain a moment longer.
"It isn't fair," she said hoarsely. "You're so beautiful. So good. Such a wonderful man. You have so much love to give and so much wisdom to share. Everything about you deserves to go on forever. If anyone in all this world deserves a child, Noah, it's you."
"Kes…damn it, Kes, do not do this," he growled fiercely, jerking her hard into his embrace, ignoring the flash of pain it caused as he squeezed the breath from them both. "Do not use any more excuses for pushing away from me. I cannot take it anymore. I will not live without you, do you understand me? I cannot live without you. Can you comprehend that? How that feels? Can you feel how much it rips my heart out every time I hear you threatening our future together?"
"No! I mean…yes…Noah, that isn't what I meant," she stuttered in shock. "I love you!" she insisted, pulling away with a wriggle so he could see that truth in her eyes. "And I'm not going anywhere, even if I could. I don't want to leave you! That's my point. I feel…I can't make myself be unselfish. I know you said-oh, hell, I'm screwing this up!"
Noah smiled when she pressed a flustered hand to her forehead.
"I am sorry," he apologized gently. "I am listening. Make your point."
"I only meant to say…" She swallowed hard. "I'm sorry I can't give you that," she said, tears springing to her eyes. "I love you and you mean the world to me. I know we will always be together. I want to marry you and be with you as your mate forever. I want it so badly it closes up my throat and hurts my heart with more joy than I can possibly manage in a single lifetime. But you deserve a child of your blood, and I can't give you one, and I feel so much grief when I think of it. Oh, Noah," she sobbed, "you haven't grieved that loss yet, and I know you will one day, and it kills me to think that I'll cause you that kind of pain."
"Kes," he said softly, closing his eyes as her grief washed over him. "Hush, baby," he soothed, adding a soft, sibilant sound to the command. "You are right, and I will not insult you by denying it. I have not grieved that loss yet. I may never, or I may do so with as much pain as you are feeling now. I cannot foretell how I will come to feel about it. I can only tell you I will not love you any less for it. I need to know you know that." He released a breath when she nodded, feeling relief. "As long as you believe that, it will be borne and it will pass, and we will both survive to love each other as long as we may.
"I am sorry, too, that you will never have a child of your own blood. That you will never pass on this beautiful hair and these stunning eyes is a tragedy, and I feel the pain of that. I do grieve that your strength of character and your cunning will end with you. The world will be deprived of an incredible treasure. But"-he paused to kiss away the tears beneath her eyes, pulling her back so he could catch her gaze-"maybe Destiny is compensating for that by giving immortality to the original model, baby. She has that way about her, you know."
She gave him a watery laugh when he smiled gently at her. "How do you always know the right thing to say?" she demanded, giving him a shove against his ribs.
Noah flinched and grunted.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Oh, I forgot! Noah, I am so sorry!"
"Now I know how I got this way in the first place," he groaned exaggeratedly. "You have no idea of your own strength."
"Well, I've only had it for a few weeks. Cut me some slack!" She protested with all sass, but her expression was wide-eyed with concern and her hands brushed tenderly over his rib cage.
"Stop that." He chuckled, catching her hands when they went to untie his robe to better inspect the damage she had done. "I will start getting ideas with my unbruised body parts that do not go well with my bruised body parts."
Kestra clicked her tongue. "You're terrible."
"Rotten to the core," he agreed. "Now come downstairs with me out of this cold. We will eat and talk and…" He trailed off, a crooked smile playing over his lips.
"If you think I'm going to ask you to finish that sentence, you're out of your mind," she laughed, letting him lead her away.
"What?" he asked innocently, "I was going to say 'and plan the wedding.'"
"Mmm-hmm," she agreed without conviction. "And I'm the fainting type," she tacked on dryly.
"You are not the fainting type?" he asked with feigned shock as they started down the stairs.
"Well, how about a slight swoon?"
"Are you casting aspersions on my age, young lady?"
"No. Just a little payback for Kikilia," she said smartly.
"That happens to be a beloved nickname handed down from generation to generation," he retorted.
"Oh? And you don't find 'sweet little girl' to be at all politically incorrect? Not to mention totally unsuited to me?"
"Not in the least," he laughed.
"Oh! Remind me to hit you when you heal," she growled.
"Only if you promise to remind me to do something to you when I heal."
She giggled at that.
"You need a reminder for that?"
"I anticipate needing several reminders for that."