Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(10)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(10)
Author: Kresley Cole

The idea so depressed her, she'd vowed to stay away from them all. I'd best not get accustomed to them being around.

Her battle to stay away this long had taken all her willpower, but she didn't foresee a victory this eve. Soon the sliver moon would rise like a pale rip in the fabric of the sky, and she was feeling vulnerable, as she always did.

Néomi had told Conrad that she felt nothing, which wasn't entirely true. When she danced at midnight, she would feel the pain of her death, that agony relived.

I don't want to be alone. Not tonight... 

At twilight, she found herself making her way to him as if pulled by an invisible string. When she hesitated just outside his door, he said, "Ghost, come to me!"

Enjoy the interaction, she commanded herself. Just don't get used to it!

"I know you're there." His voice sounded weary. "Are you frightened of me now?"

She'd never forget the terrifying sound he'd made, the aggressive growl that threatened pain, a sharp reminder of what he was. But she wasn't afraid of him.

She bit her lip. When I go inside, I won't find him as handsome as I've been thinking. She floated through the closed door and immediately glared. No, he was more handsome. Très beau.

Why was he so appealing to her? She'd always favored older men, established in their lives, with some of their fire already subdued by life's trials.

Conrad was all fire... . A beautiful madman.

"Where the f**k have you been?" he immediately snapped. His red eyes flickered over her face, her br**sts, down her body and up again with a greedy gaze, surveying her as men had before she'd died.

How was she going to go another eighty years without smoldering looks like that?

Unaffected by his tone, she said, "Did you miss me?" Her demeanor was breezy. He'd never know about her struggle to remain away. "Should I have been here instead?"

"You'd come every day before," he said gruffly.

"You warned me away, remember? And then you bellowed at me like some rabid bear."

"Rabid bear? I didn't want my brothers to see you unclothed."

"Conrad, they couldn't see me at all."

He scowled. "I didn't... recall that! Not at the time. Sometimes, it's difficult for me... " He trailed off, then added, "Damn it, I'd just had a shot."

Unwelcome sympathy for him bloomed inside her - again. She wondered what it would take for him to actually rattle her unwavering attraction. "Why would you care if they saw me na**d?"

He looked away and muttered, "I wish I knew."

Néomi stifled a smile. He was becoming as attracted to her as she was to him.

"What were you doing outside the house earlier?" He sounded accusatory.

"How did you know I was outside?"

"Didn't hear you all day."

She frowned. "Do you ever sleep?"

"Not if I can help it."

Néomi had noticed that he only slept about three or four hours in a twenty-four hour period. "And you never sleep at regular intervals. I can't see a pattern."

"Then no one else can either," he said, but before she could question his words, he said, "Now, tell me what you were doing."

"If you must know - I was studying tadpoles. I've decided to determine how long it takes their legs to grow. To the minute."

"Tadpoles. Why would you do this?"

"Give me an alternative, Conrad. What should I do?"

He was clearly at a loss.

"The one newspaper I was able to snare on the drive has been read. The house is empty of insatiable newlyweds or teenage thrill seekers with spray-paint cans, so I've no one to ogle or to frighten away. But I'm here now, so what did you want?"

Seeming not to know what to say for several moments, he opened and closed his mouth twice.

"Nothing?" she asked airily, waving him away. "Very well, have a good - "

"Stay!" he bit out. "I want you to stay."

"Why? Because you find me more stimulating than watching the paint peeling above the bed?"

He shook his head. "Want to talk to you."

With her chin up, she nonchalantly crossed to the window seat and floated atop it. "Perhaps I'll stay if you agree to answer some of my questions."

"Like what?"

"I overhear your brothers talking, but a lot of times, I have no idea what they mean. You could explain some things."

As though put out, he gave a short nod.

"What do they mean about your memories?"

"If a vampire takes blood straight from the vein, it's live, laden with a lifetime of memories. The memories have accumulated, until I can't control them. I can't tell them from my own."

"Every night Murdoch returns with more information about you. He said you have all kinds of people who want you dead."

"True."

"He also said he suspects you played with your victims before you killed them."

"I did only what I was paid to do."

Chapter 7

"Did you get paid to behead people while you drank them to death?"

He narrowed his eyes. "Drinking another gives you his memories. Drinking another as you kill him also gives you much of his strength, even some of his mystickal abilities. And beheading is one of the only ways to slay an immortal."

"Have you killed women and children before? Or humans?"

"Why would I bother to?" He seemed genuinely perplexed.

Somewhat reassured by his answer, she asked, "How did you become a vampire?"

His face was drawn with anger. "Nikolai decided to drip his tainted blood down my throat just before I died."

"He didn't have to bite you?"

"That's only in the movies," Conrad said. "Blood is the agent of the transformation, and death is the catalyst. It's this way for any species to be turned in the Lore."

"It's that easy to become a vampire?"

"Easy? It doesn't always work. And if it doesn't, you die."

"Who did it to them?"

"Kristoff, a natural-born vampire - and someone I have no intention of speaking about. Ask something else."

"Very well. Can you still eat food?"

"Yes, but I have as much interest in eating food as you would have in drinking blood." When her expression screwed up with distaste, he said, "Exactly. Though I do enjoy a good whiskey."

So had she. She had a stash of it in her studio. "What about your teleportation, your tracing? How far can you go?"

"We can cross the world - not just the living room of a haunted manor." She pursed her lips at that. "But we can only travel to places we've previously been or that we can see."

"And the Accession?"

"Phenomenon in the Lore, every five centuries or so. Families get seeded and immortals get sowed. Fights break out, and factions war. Lots of immortals get to die."

Néomi had heard these uncanny men speak of the Lore, as if it was a separate sphere of beings. She'd heard them talk about Valkyrie, witches, ghouls, and the "noble fey." There were werewolves and wraiths - and apparently all these beings... interacted.

"Are mermaids real?" she asked.

"Yes."

She gave a wide-eyed gasp, unable to hide her excitement. "Have you seen one? Do they have big tails? With scales? And what about Nessie? Is she real? Does she bite, and is she actually a Neddie - "

"How old were you when you died, ghost?" he interrupted with a patronizing mien. "Did you reach any level of maturity?"

She straightened her shoulders. "I was twenty-six."

Brows drawn, he murmured, "How did you die so young?"

How to answer? She couldn't very well admit that she'd been murdered without going into details. And the details made her sound weak. But then, being murdered was the ultimate weakness, wasn't it? Only someone who'd succumbed could understand.

This male would understand, her mind whispered. He would comprehend like no other the pain she'd endured. "I was murdered," she eventually answered.

"How?"

"What do you suppose?"

"A jealous wife shot her husband's pretty mistress."

"You think me pretty?" When he gave her an impatient look, as if they were retreading old ground, she felt a flush of pleasure. "I was never with a married man."

"A spurned lover pushed you down a flight of stairs."

"Why do you assume it was a crime of passion?" she asked.

"A feeling."

"Then your feeling's right. My ex-fiancé... stabbed me in the heart." Saying the words out loud sent chills racing through her. "He did it here. And I woke up trapped on the property, unable to leave, unable to feel."

The vampire's red eyes... softened. His voice a rasp, he asked, "Why would he do that to you?"

"He couldn't accept it when I broke it off with him." Louis had told her again and again that he would rather die than live without her, that nothing could make him let her go. "He turned the blade on himself right after me."

Conrad tensed, getting that violent expression again. "Is he here?"

"No. I don't know why I'm here and he's not, but it's the one thing I'm thankful for."

He relaxed marginally. "When did it happen?"

"The twenty-fourth of August, nineteen twenty-seven. On the night of my party celebrating my move into Elancourt. I'd just finished restoring it." The rundown estate had called to her very soul. She'd lovingly overseen every tiny detail of its restoration, slowly bringing the manor and gardens back to life.

She'd had no idea it would be her eternal home... .

"Enough about him," she said, shaking off the pall of Louis. Now that she was here with Conrad, she was determined to enjoy this conversation.

The second-ever conversation of her afterlife.

"Why do you think you became a ghost?" he asked.

"I was hoping one of you might know."

"I haven't heard the subject talked about much in the Lore - ghosts are a human phenomenon - but I understand your kind is very rare. In all my years, I've never seen one before you."

"Oh." She hadn't expected him to impart the secrets to all ghostly life, but a tad more trivia might have been nice.

"Are you... buried at Elancourt?"

"How strange that question sounds, non? Well, unless something went horribly wrong, I was buried in the city, in the old French Society's aboveground tomb." Néomi's... remains were in a coffin amidst that towering vault. There were at least thirty other bodies within. "But then, crypt robbers might have stolen my body for voodoo rituals."

He frowned at her. "Are you jesting about this?"

"Tell me, Conrad, what's the etiquette when speaking of one's own dead body? No jesting about one's bones? Am I gauche?"

He gave her a look that said he would never understand her, and might not bother trying to. "How did you come by this property?"

"I bought it. All by my female self."

"And how would you afford it?" His tone was tinged with disbelief.

Typical. "I worked," she said, unable to disguise her satisfaction. "I was a ballerina."

"A ballerina. And now a ghost."

"A warlord and now a vampire." She couldn't help but chuckle at the disparity. "What a pair we make."

He studied her. "Your laughter... seems out of place."

"Why?"

"Aren't ghosts supposed to be steeped in misery?"

"Right now, I'm enjoying talking to you - so I'm happy. I have plenty of time to be unhappy later."

"Are you usually unhappy?" he asked.

"It's not my nature to be, but my present circumstances are hardly ideal."

"Then we have that in common. Néomi, when my brothers return, I want you to steal a key to my chains."

She breathed, "Steal? Moi? Never."

"I saw you taking things from them already," he said. She gazed up at the ceiling, resisting the urge to whistle with guilt. "Why did you exchange pebbles for your thefts?"

"Well, it's one thing to take something from the living, another to give. I wanted to hear someone say, 'Now, where'd this pebble come from?' well after the fact - it would be like a record of my existence. I thought it would prove me real."

"And now, because I interact with you, you know you're real?" When she nodded, he said, "Then you'd think you'd be more appreciative, more inclined to help me. Néomi, I'm going mad just lying in this room hour after hour."

"You're already mad."

He cast her a glower. "Aren't your kind supposed to be territorial? Get me that key, and then you can be all by yourself again."

"I'm not always alone here," she said. "Families live here at times. And contrary to most ghost stories, I adore having people here. Even if they can't see or hear me, they at least entertain."

"When were the last ones here?"

"Ten years ago. A charming young couple moved in." The husband and wife had been dazzled by the incredible bargain they'd gotten on Elancourt - having no idea it was the scene of a "grisly murder-suicide," as the papers had called it.

The two had worked diligently to restore and modernize as much as they could themselves. When their first baby had come, Néomi had cosseted the little girl, rocking her cradle and putting on floating puppet shows, helping out the exhausted parents as much as possible. Yet when the toddler had begun to cry for an invisible puppeteer, the parents had gotten spooked and moved.

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