Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(16)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(16)
Author: Kresley Cole

This didn't mean she would meekly accept it when he was hurtful. She'd once read an article about setting boundaries with the people in your life. If their behavior proved unacceptable to you, you didn't reward them with more attention. When Conrad grew unpleasant, she simply left - which had the lamentable outcome of angering him even more.

Eventually his temper would cool, and he'd find her at the folly or in the tangled garden. As he gazed at anything but her face, he'd hold out his hand and gruffly say something like "Come" or "Do not stay away... ."

"Damn it, Néomi! Why wouldn't you do this for me?"

When he punched her wall, she reached her limit. "I've asked you over and over not to damage my house, Conrad," she said in as calm a tone as she could manage. "My home might not look like much, but it's all I have. If you can't respect my wishes, then I don't want to be around you."

So he couldn't follow, she traced outside into the late-afternoon sun. Starting at the overgrown gardens. From there she floated along the buckling, overgrown path to the folly.

As she approached, she heard unseen creatures slipping beneath the water. They sensed her easily enough. Why couldn't others? Why did it have to be only Conrad et les animaux... ?

Anytime he tried to get control of his temper, he strode out here and paced. When she spied a worn path winding around the cypress knees along the bank, she felt another pang. What am I going to do with him?

He was trying so hard. And he had made progress.

She'd seen him take a rag to his dirty boots, cleaning them as best as he could, like the soldier he'd once been. He showered every day, brushed his teeth, and shaved. Well, maybe he shaved every other day. But she liked the stubble. Every sunset, she battled her repugnance and brought him a mug of the blood left by the brothers, which Conrad drank only because it obviously cost her so much to serve it. Already his color was better, his muscles growing even bigger.

Chapter 11

And as he improved, they talked more and more - two people who desperately needed to. Often they'd hit a rhythm, a bandying back and forth, as if their thoughts were interlocking pieces. She'd told him, "When we talk, I like how our words ebb and flow. There doesn't seem to be a need to remark on each comment, no need to clarify - it's as if we both understand that we understand each other. It's like dancing."

"Or sex?"

She'd smiled. "Only if it's great."

He'd given her a confident nod. "Then we would have great sex."

Lord, we would... .

They seemed to fit in every way. Yes, he was half-mad, but as a Prohibition-era ghost with a penchant for stealing condoms, moon pies, and bras, she wasn't exactly in touch with reality herself.

Conrad could see her; her presence seemed to be the only thing that calmed his mind. He was healing, and she was happier than she'd been in eighty years. Two broken souls together in this broken place had found a kind of contentment.

Maybe his being here wasn't the accident she'd thought it. She couldn't believe this was all random. Maybe he was supposed to save her from this cursed afterlife?

And maybe she hadn't learned her lessons from Marguerite L'Are. If anyone was going to save Néomi, it'd be herself... .

At dusk, Conrad came to her.

Somehow looking both proud and contrite, he said, "I won't damage your house anymore."

"Merci d'avance."

He held out his hand. "I want you to come inside with me."

"No, Conrad, not tonight," she said, making him grind his teeth.

She knew her refusal frustrated him not only because he wanted to be near her. She believed he had a deep-seated need to protect her, as if she might actually need him to.

As if he felt that it was his right to.

Whenever he looked at her now, his eyes would darken in color and were becoming more and more possessive... .

"I might have damaged things, but I've repaired parts as well," he pointed out.

"C'est vrai." After finding some tools in the old shed by the drive, he'd fortified the manor, patching up or covering window openings and reattaching the front door he'd leveled.

Then, seeming to obey some undeniable instinct to keep her warm and safe, he'd set about rendering the master suite livable for her. He'd transferred the new mattress to the suite's bedstead, adding any available furniture to the area. In the attic, he'd unearthed an antique dresser and a chair that even she hadn't known were up there.

Once he'd miraculously cleared the chimney flue and was able to make a fire though he didn't seem to be cold and she certainly wasn't - he'd informed her that she would sleep with him in that room from now on.

His tone had reminded her that he'd been born an aristocrat and had become a warlord in the seventeenth century. Conrad Wroth was well used to having his will obeyed.

He'd seemed perplexed when she'd just laughed and deemed his domineering ways très charmant, and then he'd been angered when she'd reminded him that she already had a place to stay.

The fact that she had a hideaway she adjourned to every day annoyed him to no end...

"So you will come?"

When she made no move to, she could tell how badly he itched to force her inside. If she'd been corporeal, she had no doubt she'd be to force her inside. If she'd been corporeal, she had no doubt she'd be bouncing along over his shoulder as he hauled her away.

This mountain of a man was learning that his considerable might - which he'd clearly relied on for everything - was futile with her.

For once, her incorporeality was proving to be an advantage.

If he desired to be with her, then he either had to persuade her to come back or prevent her from leaving in the first place.

"I said not tonight." Willingly separating from him was just as miserable for Néomi. But she couldn't let him get accustomed to taking his anger out on her house - or her.

"Do as you will," he said in a seething tone, leaving her. But not before she spied that muscle tick in his jaw.

Late in the night, she'd just been dozing off in the studio when she heard his yell.

Before Néomi had even decided to, she'd traced to him. The second she arrived, he shot up in bed with another yell at the top of his lungs, so loud it rattled the windows.

When she hastened beside him, he swung his legs over to sit on the side of the bed.

"Conrad, it's all right. It was just a dream."

He held his head with his bound hands, elbows to his knees as he rocked. "My head... too full." He was squeezing it so hard, she feared he would crack his skull.

"Shh, shh, mon coeur." She gave a telekinetic stroke down his back. "It's over."

"I don't... I don't want to be like this anymore!" His tone was anguished.

"You're getting so much better," she murmured. "Soon you won't have these nightmares."

He narrowed his gaze at her, as if just noticing she was there. "You were... murdered - you remind me of the things I've done, of consequences," he choked out. "And you show me what I could have had... if I'd been... different." He grasped his head again and muttered, "You're what's wrong with my past. What has to be missing from my future."

She knew he would remember little to none of these words - but she would. "Conrad, your future's not settled. You can have good things in your life again."

"You're the perfect punishment for me."

"Oh." Stunned, she rose to leave.

He reached out to stay her. When he closed his big fist around air, he turned and struck the headboard with frustration. Eyes vacant, burning red, he rasped, "Did any man ever want his penance so much?"

She said nothing, just settled back beside him to stroke his hair from his forehead. She hated that he was in so much pain and wished she could draw it from him. He'd once been a hero, his life given over to something greater, but now he suffered.

Néomi had known that he was a broken man who needed saving. Over the last three days, she'd become convinced that he deserved saving.

Right at that moment, she realized it might just fall to her.

But how could she help him? She sighed, coaxing him to lie back once more. Néomi had been a dancer, raised in a demimonde concerned with little more than revelry and drinking. What did she know about bringing vampires back from the brink?

She'd simply have to use the tools she had at her disposal. And really, the medicinal values of Scotch and laughter were underrated.


"Who's your best friend, mon grand?" she cooed, levitating two bottles. "Who does Conrad love?"

He was kneeling at the fireplace, finishing his fire. Outside the night was blustery, but inside it would be comfortable. "What have you got?" He stood, brushing his hands off on his pants, then sat on one of the chairs in front of the hearth.

"A gift for you."

"A... gift?" Even he knew his tone sounded perplexed.

"Oui, also known as a present. Or as the French say, un présent."

He accepted the bottles from her, dusting off the label of one. His jaw slackened. "This is Glen Garioch, nineteen twenty-five!" He hesitated even to read the other label. "My God," he breathed. "Macallan, 'twenty-four. Néomi, this is about a hundred thousand dollars' worth of whiskey. I can't drink this - you could sell it. Or have someone sell it for you."

"What would I do with money? I have plenty in my safe. Besides, I'd get much more pleasure out of seeing you drink it." She hovered just behind him, peering over his shoulder, which put her soft words right at his ear. "And then you must describe it to me, very slowly, in that deep, rumbly voice of yours. Is it smoky or earthy like peat? How does it unfold on your tongue? How long does it take for the heat to stroke through you inside?"

She could read the phone book and make it sound erotic. "You're sure?"

"Cheers!" She gave him an odd little smile as she said, "Á votre santé." To your health.

"Then I want to drink this and watch you dance."

She looked delighted with him; he'd never get enough of that look. "I want to dance and watch my vampire drink."

My vampire... Damn, he liked it when she called him that. He knew it was flirting at best, but he couldn't stem the flush of pleasure.

He opened the Macallan, letting it breathe. The scent of it hit him, and his lips curled. This would not be whiskey that he would use, as he had in the past. For one thing, he didn't need it to dull his rage as much as he had before. More importantly, a bottle like this demanded to be savored -

"I'll be back," she said, then vanished.

He tensed, anxious whenever she left, but she returned in minutes, bearing a windup gramophone over one hand and a crystal tumbler over the other. She handed him the glass, then positioned the gramophone on the floor. Once she'd wound it and set the record needle in place, scratchy music began to play, a slow jazz ballad.

Making her voice like an announcer's, she said, "And now! For the matinee! The supremely talented Miss Laress will perform for a lucky audience! Of one!" She smiled coyly. "I've remembered an old dance I used to do when I was younger. I think you'll like it... ."

As his rare whiskey breathed, Conrad leaned back in the chair in front of the fire, watching the most beautiful female he'd ever seen dance solely for him.

Though Néomi wasn't blushing with color, she was still lovely to him - especially when she moved. Hypnotic. This dance was so effortless for her, she would turn to him in the middle of pirouettes or standing splits to smile or wink at him.

Néomi lived in the moment, laughed easily, flirted constantly. Her natural state was happiness, which both mystified and attracted him. Over his long life, that state had continually eluded him. But she had a theory why: "People think happiness will simply fall into their laps. You have to aspire to it. And sometimes you have to seize it when it's kicking and screaming."

Néomi had been murdered, possessed no body, and was still seizing all the pleasure she could. Conrad respected that.

Now she danced as if she knew by instinct precisely how to attract him alone. How to be irresistible to him. So why try to resist? Why struggle against his attraction?

Because even if she returned his feelings, he would only end up disappointing her.

He was improving here, but he wasn't right in the mind by any means, still suffering from occasional rages and grueling nightmares. How would he do once freed into the real world? Would he be able to keep from drinking his foes when he was addicted to harvesting their power?

For centuries his adversaries had been determined to discover anything he cared for. But then, that was an unspoken rule in the Lore. Immortals could be blasé about death after living so long - the best bargaining chip was revenge against family or loved ones. Yet for all those years he'd had no liabilities.

Conrad had acquired his first. Was running headlong to her.

He shook his head. No, his enemies couldn't hurt Néomi, could never abduct or wound her. Maybe that was part of the reason he'd found such an unusual feeling of ease with her - because he knew he couldn't harm her either. Even when he got free, he wouldn't be able to accidentally injure her if he lost control.

But how to get free? Not one of his brothers had returned since that day he tried to convince them of Néomi's existence - the day they'd left for Mount Oblak, the Forbearer Castle.

Conrad knew that meant one of two things had happened.

Kristoff had possibly discovered that they were keeping Conrad alive. The second law of the Forbearer order? Kill the Fallen without measure. Just by keeping Conrad alive, they'd been committing treason. Kristoff had likely imprisoned them at Mount Oblak, vowing to free them as soon as they gave up Conrad's location.

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