Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(12)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(12)
Author: Kresley Cole

Nïx gave them an exaggerated howdy wave, yet they all scowled. She seemed to recognize two of the five: the smoke demon Rök, a fugitive in two dimensions living under a "terminate with extreme prejudice" order, and Grimslade, who sat in the chair closest to the darkened corner.

Grim, one among a warrior breed of demons raised underground in the most hellish conditions, looked to have a heart attack when Regin sat beside him. She was unaware that Grim had only two aversions - one to bright things and one to beautiful things. Regin was both.

As Nïx took a seat, she said to Rydstrom, "Mariketa the Awaited told me you wanted to speak to me."

"Aye, I need your advice."

"My advice." She pressed her fingers to her chest. "But didn't you recently say that I was a 'mad creature' who was 'soft in the head'? Sniff, sniff, Rydstrom. Sniff, sniff. I was so crushed that I ate a gallon of Ben & Jerry's, except I didn't because Valkyrie don't eat."

Rydstrom narrowed his eyes. "Bowen told you I said that?"

"Ever-knowing here."

With uncharacteristic smoothness, Rydstrom said, "Then you also know I said you were a beauty."

She was a comely bit, but then, was there ever a Valkyrie who was hard to look at? Cade had seen his first one when he'd just turned nine. He'd been fascinated with them ever since.

Nïx fluffed her long hair. "Though you merely observe the obvious with your aggressive flirting, you're still forgiven." Exhaling as if in resignation, she said, "I suppose that now you'll want to sleep with me." Over Rydstrom's sputtering, she added, "Alas, big guy - I am taken."

"No, you're not," Regin said.

"Am too," Nïx said. "Mike Rowe, the star of Dirty Jobs, is soon to realize I'm his beloved." She sighed dreamily. "He even got his lawyers to contact me on the pretext of a" - she made air quotes - "'restraining order.'"

Returning her attention to a bemused Rydstrom, she said, "So about this advice... do you want to find your fated female or defeat your usurper, Omort the Deathless? Which would you prefer to have? Your queen or the crown that your brother lost for you?"

Cade slammed his drink to the sticky table. He'd f**ked up. He knew it, was reminded of it hourly. He did his damnedest to rectify the situation - and always fell short. "Am I never livin' that down?" he snapped, his lower-class demon accent standing out sharply. He usually masked it better than this.

He wanted to be like his older brother - he truly did. He often imagined what it would be like to be respected and sought out for his wisdom and evenhandedness. Instead, he was "violent, impulsive, and misguided," according to Rydstrom.

Cade's crew made money doing the things the bad guys would wince at. He just didn't have those moral checks on his personality.

But it isn't like Rydstrom doesn't have his secrets. And Cade was inadvertently privy to several. There were certain things that made King Rydstrom lose his cool in a catastrophic way.

"No, I checked. You're not going to live it down," Nïx said, with all the authority of a soothsayer who'd never been proven wrong - not once in at least three thousand years.

The other demons smirked, except for Grim, who was casting tense looks at Regin and absently puncturing claw marks into the table.

Rydstrom freely blamed Cade for losing his crown, and Cade had never apologized. Cade figured most brothers would have had an exchange of "Sorry" followed by "We'll work it out." Not he and his brother - they were prone to break out in fistfights just walking together.

Yet they'd rarely separated for centuries.

"Why make me choose?" Rydstrom asked. "You could tell me how to obtain both."

She blinked at him. "Because that wouldn't be... fun?" After casting an inquisitive glance at Cade, she focused on Rydstrom, seeming to will him toward an answer.

"I want... my crown."

Nïx glared. "Well, there went that decision tree. Four words and both of your fates just altered utterly." She turned to Cade. "What about you? What would you do to restore your brother's kingdom?"

He grated, "Bloody - anything."

She sighed as if she disapproved of his answer but wasn't surprised by it. "Would you relinquish your life for it?"

"I would," Cade said easily. Life's too long anyway. He was millennial in age, had no family other than Rydstrom and their sisters.

At least with his death, Cade could atone. If anyone got to die to save their kingdom, it better be him.

"Would you give up your own fated female?" she asked. The demons at the table grew quiet.

Not so easy to relinquish. Answer the bloody question. Cade couldn't have her anyway. She was forever forbidden to him. Rydstrom's scrutinizing me. Did he know? Answer it. "Yes, I would."

"Very well." She faced Rydstrom. "Your crown... You and Cade's gang have been searching for months for a particularly nasty warlock who's the only one with the knowledge of how Omort the Deathless can be vanquished."

Rydstrom narrowed his gaze. "We've told no one that."

She waved away his words. "Don't worry, I've been telling everybody." When he scowled, Nïx said, "Problem, though."

"Which is?"

"The warlock's... been murdered." She cupped her ear. "Wow, I can hear your hopes plummeting."

Cade ran his hand down his face. "How?"

"Sucked dry by a red-eyed vampire." Both Cade and Rydstrom tensed.

"This leech... he lives still?" Cade inched forward in his seat, already envisioning how to torture the vampire to retrieve the warlock's stolen memories. The Woede had no love lost for vampires.

"He does!" Nïx said. "And I even know where he is."

With a kingly motion of his hand, Rydstrom waved her on. Nïx grew still. Cade drank deeply. Rydstrom, you just f**ked up... .

"You dare wave me about?" Nïx's eyes flickered silver with anger. "Like I'm your court seer, or the seer's coffee-fetching intern?" She lowered her voice. "I'm more than twice your age, and two of my three parents are gods."

Rydstrom had to know he'd botched this, but he plowed on. "Nïx... " he said slowly, warningly.

"Oh, Rydstrom" - she scratched him under the chin and gave him an embarrassed smile - "this mad creature is so soft in the head, she forgot where she put the leech!" She stood to go. "Toodle-oo, the night grows short, and Regin and I have much mayhem to hatch."

"Stay, Nïx. I'll leave. You can continue talking to Cade." Rydstrom obviously thought he'd have more luck with Nïx.

In general, Cade was considerably smoother with women than his brother was. Though Rydstrom did love to remind Cade what a "blathering idiot" he'd been the sole time he'd spoken with his fated female.

Admittedly, he hadn't been at the top of his game, but blathering idiot? Not in a million years.

Rydstrom indicated for the rest of the crew to go to the bar. Except for Rök, who gave a vile curse. "Summoned yet again," he grated, then began tracing.

Ballocks, there goes my ride. Neither Cade nor Rydstrom could trace any longer. They'd had that ability bound - a punishment for a failed coup.

I'm going to get Rydstrom's bloody crown back for him if it bloody kills me... .

When it was only Cade and the Valkyrie, Nïx said, "You'll be at the gathering this weekend, yes?"

He nodded. "How's the alliance shaping up?" He'd heard Nïx had been actively steering this Accession. For her to take such an interest meant this one could be apocalyptic. Otherwise, Nïx the Ever-Knowing would likely be out shopping, as Valkyrie fancied doing.

She said, "So far on our team, we have the Lykae, the Forbearers, the Furiae, the Wraiths, the noble fey, myriad demonarchies, the House of Witches, possibly the CIA, and probably a Colombian drug lord. The nymphs are straddling the fence."

Regin opened her mouth, but Nïx cut her off. "That one's too easy, Reege."

The Valkyrie shrugged, her attention returning to an arm-wrestling match.

In a nonchalant tone, he asked Nïx, "So you want to tell me about the leech?"

"I don't know if you can defeat this one," Nïx said. "He's unspeakably powerful."

Cade gritted his teeth. "Then I only wish you'd seen what I did to my last enemy. And that was piss easy for me."

Nïx peered at the ceiling, then down again with an expression of surprise. "Very nice. But I can't see what you did with his spine."

She could view the past as well? There'd been rumors... . "Made him try to crawl for it before I beheaded him." He immediately frowned. "What do you do when you pluck a spine?"

"The same. You can't improve on a classic. Oh, and speaking of getting a spine - how are things with your lady love, Cade?"

He drank, studying her over the rim of his mug. Nïx can tell how I feel. She knows. Cade was notoriously brutal, a feared mercenary. Yet at times he found himself gut-sick with wanting his female, one who was too young and too human - the sole species forbidden to him.

Because the mortal wouldn't survive the initial claiming when he went demonic.

Cade no longer tried to deny that she was his, no longer bothered with his halfhearted pursuits of other females. Every time he saw her from the shadows, the certainty grew.

He wondered if Nïx knew about the picture he kept beside his bed.

Nïx smiled at that very moment; Cade swore. "Ever-knowing, Cade," she said softly.

Cade hiked his shoulders, pretending nonchalance. "Tell me about the vampire, or not, dove. But none of us really wants to be here."

"I'll tell you," Nïx said, her gaze rapt on his horns. "But only if you let me lick your rock-hard horns - "

"Nïx!" Regin's attention snapped back to this conversation.

Eyes wide, Nïx cried, "Who said that?? I didn't say that! Oh, very well - the vampire's named Conrad Wroth. Best be careful with that one. He single-handedly took down Bothrops the Lich."

"That was Wroth?" He'd heard of the assassin before. Cade grudgingly admitted that the leech did nice work, dealing deaths with a unique, gruesome signature to them. Which was important in their line of business. "Where is he?"

"To find him, you need to trail the one who seeks him in sleep."

"Soothsayerese? I don't speak it," he said, but she didn't elaborate. "That's all you're going to divvy?"

"Wanna know more?" Nïx raised her brows. "Then you should have let me lick your horns."

14

When Conrad's eyes slid shut, the muscles in his jaw tightening, Néomi realized he wasn't going to deny his brother's words.

Her lips parted. Never been with a woman? If Conrad had been attractive to her before, he'd just become irresistible. This man, with his tremendous body made for pleasing and protecting a woman, was a virgin.

Oh, but this revelation was a problem. Conrad - so secretive and proud - was plainly burning with embarrassment, restless in his chains. His arms were bulging so much, it was clear he was clenching his fists behind him. Her knowing this would be humiliating for him.

And his pride had already been taking a beating. She knew men, and she knew that any show of vulnerability in front of a woman they found attractive was crushing to them.

Her heart was breaking for him.

Murdoch frowned at Conrad's reaction. "Just think, if you found your Bride at the gathering, within a single week, you could be bedding her. Aren't you even curious about what it's like?"

His tone incensed, Conrad said, "Leave me."

"Things are heating up overseas - none of us will be back until late tomorrow. Do you want to drink before I go?"

Conrad began straining against his bonds, the muscles in his neck standing out with the effort. "Get out of my sight!" As he rocked to the side, she saw blood on the sheets from where the manacles were cutting into his wrists.

"Conrad, calm yourself." Murdoch stood. "I'm leaving."

When Murdoch disappeared, Néomi took a breath, then sidled closer to Conrad. Making her tone casual, she said, "You seem discomfited by this, but you shouldn't be. Et alors. Ce n'est pas grand-chose. It's not a big - "

"Get out."

"Conrad, your brother seems to believe you could soon find your Bride and bed her, but I think he's glossing over a major component - she needs to want you, too. I could teach you what women like. I could show you how to seduce her."

That just made him more furious.

She hurriedly said, "Listen, this is your room and I'll respect your privacy, but maybe tonight, I could just sit with you? I won't say a word. I just don't want to be alone - "

"And you know what I want." She'd noticed that his fangs seemed to sharpen with aggression - they did now. "So be a good girl, and promise me," he began in a low tone, before yelling, "that you'll get me a goddamned key!"

"You said you wanted to kill your brothers. You said you ached to."

"So?"

She made an impatient sound. "So, if I free you, you could just lie in wait and attack them here. I'd be an accessory to murder."

Looking as if he could happily throttle her, he said, "I wouldn't do it here."

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