Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(14)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(14)
Author: Kresley Cole

"What does that word mean?"

"It means dancer."

As tendrils of sunlight began to reach them, she pursed her lips. "Oh, very well." She floated to her feet, then accompanied him back to the house.

Though she grumbled, he was able to lead her into his room. She was likely too tired to resist. Inside, she drifted straight to the bed, then curled on her side, hovering just above the mattress.

Earlier, he'd noticed that she floated over chairs as though sitting. Now he knew she slept on beds as well.

In seconds, she was asleep... .

During the long day as he watched over her, her image grew stronger, which satisfied him more than anything in recent memory.

He experienced needs unknown before, inexplicable urges... . He wanted to lie behind her. Wanted to tuck her small body into him. Again and again, he ran his hands over the outline of her hair, imagining what the glossy curls would feel like.

He had the overwhelming urge to buy this place, fix it, and keep her safe within it - but only if he could prevent her from having to dance as she had last night. His hands clenched as he thought of her, cursed to feel that pain over and over.

Conrad had the knowledge necessary to do some spells - mostly crude protection or camouflaging spells - but could rarely access it on demand. Whenever he wanted a certain memory, it proved infuriatingly elusive. If he was able to utilize at will all the knowledge he'd acquired, could he figure out how to protect her?

What if the answer was there, already within him, waiting to be retrieved? Nikolai had said Conrad could learn to do it.

He'd also said that there was only one thing that could compete with bloodlust - sex. And that there was only one thing that could compete with the overwhelming need to kill.

Now Conrad knew. The need to protect.

By dint of will, effort, and a rake he'd found in a ramshackle toolshed, Conrad had retrieved several of the newspapers on the drive that she'd been unable to reach. He intended to make a gift of them to his female.

Having no experience whatsoever with women and limited resources, this was the best he could come up with.

He'd just finished stacking up the papers in the room and settled in to wait for Néomi to wake when his brothers traced into the room.

Nikolai exhaled wearily to find him moving about freely. "How did you get loose?"

"Dislocated my shoulder."

Almost at the exact same time, all three raised their brows at the collection of papers. "You dislocated your shoulder to get to the newspapers on the road? You could have asked one of us if you wanted to read - "

"No. That's not it." Why not tell them? They already thought him mad. What if one of them has encountered a ghost? What if they believed him? "I got them for a female who lives here." He was sane enough to recognize how this sounded. "She likes to read them."

"The house is abandoned, Conrad." Nikolai pinched the bridge of his nose. "You know this."

He ran his palms over his pants. "I'm the only one who can see her. She's lying on this bed right now."

To a man, they got that anxious expression as though they were wondering whether madness was catching.

"If there is truly a ghost there, get her to move something," Murdoch said. "Can she make a door slam? Or rattle something in the attic?"

"Yes, she can move things with her mind."

Sebastian waved him on. "Then by all means... "

Conrad glanced from them to her, and back again. "She's... asleep." And he couldn't shake her to get her to wake.

"Of course she is," Sebastian muttered. He'd always been the most skeptical of the brothers. Conrad figured that even after three centuries, that hadn't changed.

"Damn it, I'm telling the truth."

"Yet you can't rouse her?"

Conrad considered explaining why she was so exhausted, but thought that would only make things worse.

Murdoch asked, "Why would we believe you're seeing a ghost rather than another hallucination? You're supposed to be bombarded with delusions."

"I was. Constantly. I'm not anymore. She's real." Right at her ear, he said, "Néomi, wake up!" No response. "Wake up!" he said louder, aware that he appeared to be yelling at the sheet.

Murdoch had a look on his face as if he couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry over Conrad's actions. Finally, he said, "Kristoff has given word that there will be a battle tonight. So we likely won't be returning for two days."

Nikolai added, "We'll leave you free run of the property. The refrigerator is filled with weeks' worth of bagged blood, and I'll get my wife to stop - "

"I'll manage on my own," Conrad said quickly.

"Very well."

Surprised by the concession, Conrad said, "Free me completely."

Nikolai's gaze went from the newspapers to Conrad's eyes, and he exhaled. "We can't. You've come too far to relapse. Soon I'm going to ask you to make a decision. A critical one - but you have to be stable."

Conrad gave a bitter laugh. "Since when do you ask me to make a decision instead of making it for me?"

Nikolai's expression was grave. "Since I lost my brother for three centuries."

16

"Are you a betting man, Conrad?" Néomi was surprised her voice wasn't quavering.

He'd shaved, fully revealing the striking structure of his lean face. And she'd been given no warning. She'd breezed into the room, then stopped, speechless at the sight of him reclining on the bed.

Devastating male. And she wondered why she couldn't stay mad at him.

He frowned at her reaction. He obviously had no idea of his heart-pounding effect on women. "Depends."

Yesterday, once she'd awakened from her lengthy reverie, she'd found a stack of newspapers lying on the floor. He'd gruffly said, "I was able to get some of the ones that had piled up out of your reach." She thought that for a man like Conrad, this had been on a level with picking flowers for her.

Though the gesture had softened her, she'd still been hesitant when he'd wanted to stay close by. "Why should I choose to be around you?" she'd asked. "You're just going to hurt my feelings or start haranguing me for the key again." The key that she'd stolen from Murdoch and hidden away.

"My brothers were here earlier," Conrad had answered. "They said they aren't returning for two days. There will be a moratorium on the key. And I won't insult you."

Apparently, his brothers had allowed him to remain untied from the bed, with his manacles in front - even after he'd disclosed that there was a ghost living here.

The idea that he'd had to tell them that he would have gotten the spirit to prove herself, but she was asleep, was too amusing. The image of him yelling at seemingly nothing but a sheet was hilarious.

She'd decided to give him another chance. Which was why she held a deck of cards this evening. "I challenge you to twenty-one rounds of vingt-et-un. Whoever loses a round has to answer a question, truthfully and completely. Any question whatsoever."

He sat up. "Deal."

She hovered on the foot of the bed to face him. He had difficulty with the cards because his hands were still chained, but he wouldn't ask for help. And she had to use her most highly concentrated telekinesis, which would mean she'd have to sleep more. But still they muddled through.

After he won the first hand, his lips curved, not quite a smile, but she still had to shake herself. "I win."

Yes, you do... . In the game of attraction, lips like his should be ruled an unfair advantage.

Chapter 10

What were the women of his time thinking to allow him to go unscathed? She wanted to fan herself with the cards she appeared to hold. "So ask your question," she absently said.

"Were you survived by any of your family?"

"Non. I never knew my father. Maman died when I'd just turned sixteen. I was an only child."

She dealt again. He had an ace showing, and she had seventeen. Dealer holds. "Merde," she snapped when he flipped a ten of clubs.

He asked, "Why didn't you know your father?" When she hesitated, he repeated her words: "Any question whatsoever, truthfully and completely."

"I didn't know him because he was a scoundrel. He was rich, a scion of Nîmes, France, and my mother had been a young servant in his home. He was married, but he still seduced her. When she revealed to him she was expecting his child, he told her, 'Take the voyage to America, and I'll follow right after my divorce. We'll raise the baby there as a family.' But he never came. She waited for him - stranded here, pregnant, and without enough money to return."

"Maybe he died on the crossing. Who knows what could have happened to him?"

"Non, he sent maman a pittance that only served to let her know she'd been duped - a potential scandal decisively removed from société's eyes. To her dying day, she thought he would come for us, so she never remarried." Though there were certainly proposals in her line of work - some even legitimate.

Néomi had been unable to comprehend how Marguerite could turn away opportunities for a better life when they were offered to her, opportunities for a French émigrée dancer and her bastard to get out of the Vieux Carré.

In Néomi's mind, if a woman was silly enough to wait for a man to save her, then she didn't get to be choosy about which man it would be.

Marguerite's life had taught Néomi well. She'd vowed never to be in that situation, dependent on a man.

She dealt once more. She had nineteen, while he had a jack of hearts showing. "Hit," he said. She did. "Hit again. And once more." He flipped his cards over. Jack, two, three, six.

Her lips thinned. This card game wasn't working out as she'd planned. She'd hoped to find out about his past and how he'd gone a lifetime without sex - not to get interrogated.

"Twenty-one the hard way. I win again. If your mother didn't remarry, how did the two of you live?"

"She worked."

"That's not a thorough answer."

"She was a burlesque dancer. I grew up in lodgings above the club."

He raised his brows. "This explains much about you, and your lack of modesty. But with your looks" - his gaze dropped to her br**sts, then swiftly back up - "why didn't you follow in her footsteps?"

She gave him a bland smile. "Who says I didn't?"

He looked aghast. "But you were a ballet dancer!"

"Not always," she murmured.

"You can't leave it at that."

"Then win this hand." Twenty to her and seventeen to him. I win." Finally. And if he was going to dig into her past, then... "Why aren't you more loyal to your family?"

He narrowed his eyes. "You're going to question my sense of loyalty?"

"Oui. Actually, I just did."

"I was in the Kapsliga for eighteen years. Then they turned on me. I fought side by side with my brothers for over a decade - they made me a monster."

"Why do you feel like you're a monster? I wish you didn't view vampires the way you do. You're growing on me" - I'm infatuated with you - "and I think your brothers are honorable men. The fact that you are all vampires is incidental."

"Incidental. My beliefs boiled down to one word." He fingered the edges of a card. "If you saw me in the midst of bloodlust, you'd think me a monster. Now deal. I'm keen to get to my questions."

She dealt. "Ha! I win. Why are your three brothers... different from you? Why did they never drink from the vein?"

"Sebastian prevented himself by becoming a hermit, staying away from any temptation. The oldest two joined an order, an army called the Forbearers. Their first law is never to take blood straight from the flesh. Though now I've heard they're allowed to drink from their immortal Brides."

"The Forbearers are King Kristoff's army, n'est-ce pas?" When he nodded, she said, "Why didn't you just join up with your brothers?"

"Kristoff's a bloody Russian!" he snapped, his broad shoulders tensing. "I fought those bastards for over a decade, in near daily battles, and then I was killed by Russian steel. I wake up, and I've got one's blood running in my veins, my brothers pledging my goddamned eternal fealty to him - a Russian and a vampire. There could be no combination I despised more."

"If these Forbearers fight tirelessly against evil vampires - "

"Kristoff has turned thousands of humans. The Lore balances itself, but not when he's creating vampires like that." Visibly making an attempt to calm himself, he said, "Deal."

"And the tide of twenty-one is turning," she said when she got vingt-et-un. "Tell me about your family."

He impatiently said, "My parents were a love match. My mother died giving birth to the last of four much younger sisters. My father was considerably older and never recovered from the loss."

"Three brothers and four sisters? You had seven siblings? I always wished for even one brother or sister."

"My sisters didn't live long - they died of the sickness. The oldest was only thirteen."

"I'm sorry, Conrad."

"I wasn't as close to them as I could have been. As I should have been. I'd already been fighting for the Kapsliga for years by the time the first one was born. They were closest to Sebastian."

"Why were you the son who was chosen for the Kapsliga?"

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