Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(2)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(2)
Author: Kresley Cole

The brutal hit takes him across his neck. A split second of faltering. Enough for his brothers to tackle him.

He thrashes and bites, snapping his fangs. Can't break free... can't...  They attach the manacles at his wrists to another chain. He kicks viciously, stunned when they trap his legs as well.

Choking with rage, he strains against his bonds with all his strength. The metal cleaves his skin to the bone. Nothing.

Caught. He roars, spitting blood at them, dimly hearing them speak.

"I hope you came up with a good place to put him," Sebastian says between ragged breaths.

"I bought a long-abandoned manor," Nikolai grates, "place called Elancourt."

Chills course through him even through his fury; pain erupts from the injury on his arm. A dream. His doom. He can never go to this Elancourt - knows this with a savage certainty. He's too strong for them to trace him - there's still time to escape.

If they take him there, they won't take him alive... .

Under a clouded nighttime sky, the spirit of Néomi Laress knelt in the drive at the very edge of her property line, gazing hungrily at the newspaper, lying wrapped in wet plastic.

Today the deliveryman - that capricious fiend - had missed the drive again, this time tossing the bundle squarely onto the desolate county road.

Néomi was starving for that paper, desperate for the news, reviews, and commentary that would break up the monotony of her life - or her eighty-year-long afterlife.

But she couldn't leave the estate to seize it. As a ghost, Néomi could manipulate matter telekinetically, and her power was nearly absolute at Elancourt - she could rattle all the windows or tear off the roof if she wanted to, and the weather often changed with her emotions - but not outside the property.

Her beloved home had become her prison, her eternal cell of fifteen acres and a slowly dying manor. Among fate's other curses, each seemingly designed to torture her in personal and specific ways, Néomi could never leave this place.

She didn't know why this was so - only that it was, and had been since she'd awakened the morning after her murder. She recalled seeing her haunting reflection for the first time. Néomi remembered that exact moment when she'd realized that she'd died - when she'd first comprehended what she'd become.

A ghost. She'd become something that frightened even her. Something unnatural. Never again to be a lover or friend. Never to be a mother, like she'd always planned after her dancing career. As a storm had boiled outside, she'd silently screamed for hours.

The only thing she could be thankful for was that Louis hadn't been trapped here with her.

She stretched harder. Must... have that... paper!

Néomi wasn't certain why it continued to arrive. A past article had recounted the problems inherent with "recurrent billing of credit cards," and she supposed she was the benefactress of her last tenant's credit card negligence. The delivery could end at any time. Every one was precious.

Eventually she gave up, defeated, sitting back in the weed-ridden drive. Out of habit, she made movements as if she was rubbing her thighs, yet felt nothing.

Néomi could never feel. Never again. She was incorporeal, as substantial as the mist rolling in from the bayou.

Thanks, Louis. Oh, and may you rot in hell - because surely that's where you went... .

Usually, at this point in the newspaper struggle, she'd be battling the urge to tear her hair out, wondering how much longer she could endure this existence, speculating what she'd done to deserve it.

Yes, on the night of her death, she'd refused to die, but this was ridiculous.

But even as desperate as she was for the words, she wasn't as badly off as usual.

Because last night a man had come into her home. A towering, handsome man with grave eyes. He might return this night. He might even move in.

She shouldn't get too excited about the stranger, to have her hopes crushed yet again -

Lights blinded her; the shriek of squealing tires ripped through the quiet of the night.

As a car shot forward onto the gravel, she futilely raised her arms to protect her face and gave a silent cry. It drove straight through her, the engine reverberating like an earthquake when it passed through her head.

The vehicle never slowed as it prowled down the oak-lined drive to Elancourt.


Néomi blinked, her strong night vision returning slowly. Even after all these years, she was still surprised that she was unharmed.

She recognized the sharp, low car from last night, so markedly different from the trucks that usually chugged by on the old county road. Which meant... which meant...

He's returned! The grave-eyed man who came here last night!

The paper forgotten, she materialized to Elancourt's landing, overlooking the front entrance. She moved as if to clutch the sides of the window there, her arms floating outspread.

And there sat his car in the drive.

Won't you move in? she'd wanted to beg last night as the man had examined the manor. He'd tested the columns, drawn sheets off some of the remaining furniture, and even yanked on the radiant heater in the main salon. Appearing satisfied that it was solid, he'd followed the contraption's underfloor pipes by stomping on the marble tiles.

The heater will work, she'd inwardly cried. Ten years ago, the manor had been modernized by a young couple who'd stayed for a time.

Yet she couldn't relate the merits of Elancourt to this mysterious stranger. Because she was a ghost. The act of speaking, or at least talking in a way that others could hear, had proved impossible for her, as had making herself visible to others.

Which was probably for the best. Her reflection was haunting even to her. Though Néomi's appearance was a close facsimile of how she'd looked the night she died - with the same dress and jewelry - now her skin and lips were as pale as rice paper. Her hair flowed wildly with rose petals tangled in it, and the skin under her eyes was darkened, making her irises seem freakishly blue in contrast.

She focused on the car again. Deep masculine voices sounded from within it. Was there more than one man?

Maybe there'd be two more "confirmed bachelors" like the handsome couple who had lived here during the fifties!

Whoever was within the car needed to hurry inside. Autumn rains had been tentatively falling all night and lightning had begun flaring in a building rhythm. She hoped the men didn't catch the front façade lit by the glow of lightning. With its arches and overhangs and stained glass, the manor could appear... forbidding.

The very Gothic traits she'd admired seemed to drive others away.

The vehicle began to rock from side to side on its wide wheels, and the voices grew louder. Then came a man's bellow. Her lips parted when two large boots kicked through the back window, shattering it, glass spraying out into the gravel.

Someone unseen hauled the booted man back inside, but then a rear door began to bulge outward. Were cars so weak in this age that a man could kick it out of shape? No, no, she'd dutifully read the crash test reports, and they said -

The door shot off its hinges, all the way to the front porch. She gasped as a wild-eyed, crazed man lunged out of the vehicle. He was manacled at his wrists and ankles and covered in blood. He immediately fell into a deep slick of mud, only to be tackled by three men.

One of them was her prospective tenant from last night.

She saw then that they all were covered in blood - because the chained one was spitting it at them as he thrashed.

"No... no!" he yelled, struggling not to enter the house. Could he possibly sense there was more here than could be seen? No one had before.

"Conrad, stop fighting us!" the tenant said through gritted teeth. His accent sounded Russian. "We don't want to hurt you."

But the madman named Conrad didn't let up one bit. "God damn you, Nikolai! What do you want with me?"

"We're going to rid you of this madness, defeat your bloodlust."

"You fools!" He laughed manically. "No one comes back!"

Chapter 2

"Sebastian, grab his arms!" this Nikolai barked to one of the others. "Murdoch, get his damned legs!" As Murdoch and Sebastian rushed to action, she realized that they both resembled Nikolai. All three had the same grim expression, the same tall, powerful bodies.

Brothers. Their captive must be one as well.

They carried the bloody and flailing Conrad toward the front double doors. Blood in her home. She shuddered. She detested blood, hated the sight of it, the scent of it. She'd never forget how it'd felt to be bathed in her own, to have it thicken and cool around her dying body.

Hadn't Elancourt seen enough of it?

In a panic, she raced downstairs and shot her hands up, exerting an invisible force against the doors. She used all her strength to keep them sealed tight. No one could bust through this hold -

The doors flew open. The men barreled through her, making her shiver as though she'd walked through a cobweb. A gust of wind rushed inside, following them in to stir the leaves and grit coating the floor.

Just how strong were they? Yes, they were huge, but she'd held the doors with what had to be the strength of twenty men.

Once inside the darkened room, Nikolai cast a chain across the floor with no care for her Italian marble.

The lunatic broke free once more, making it to his feet. He was towering! He lumbered toward the door, but his bound ankles ensured that he careened into an antique armoire covered with a sheet. It collapsed under the impact. Crushed.

She'd had to dance two performances to afford that piece, and remembered lovingly polishing it herself. It was one of the few original furnishings that remained.

After Murdoch and Sebastian hoisted him out of the wreckage, Murdoch wrapped his thick arm around Conrad's neck, cupping the back of Conrad's head with his free hand. She could see that Murdoch was tightening this hold with all his might, his face drawn with the effort, the muscles in his neck standing out with strain.

Somehow Conrad was unaffected for long moments. Eventually, his thrashing eased and he went limp. While Murdoch laid him on the ground, Nikolai hastily affixed the chain to the same radiator he'd tested last night, then attached the other end to Conrad's handcuffs.

That's why Nikolai had been inspecting it? Because he intended to jail this lunatic here?

Why here?

"Could you have found an eerier place to keep him?" Sebastian said between breaths as they all stood. At that instant, lightning crackled just outside. The high stained-glass windows were broken in places and cast tinted light, distorting the shadows within. "Why not use the old mill?"

"Someone might come across him there," Murdoch answered. "And Kristoff knows about the mill. If he or his men discover what we're planning... "

Who's Kristoff? What are they planning?

Nikolai added, "Besides, Elancourt was recommended to me."

"Who would ever recommend this?" Sebastian waved a hand around. "It looks straight from a horror movie." She wished he was wrong, but a bolt flashed then; hued shadows appeared to slither and pounce. Sebastian raised his brows as if his point had been made.

Nikolai's gaze focused on his brothers' faces, studying their reactions as he answered, "Nïx did." He hesitated, seeming not to know if they'd laugh, rail, or nod.

Murdoch shrugged and Sebastian nodded grimly.

Who's Nïx?

Sebastian glanced around. "Raises my hackles, though" - another flash of lightning - "almost like it's... haunted."

Sebastian gets a cookie.

"And you know that's something for me to say. It's spooked Conrad as well."

Yes, because otherwise he clearly would be fine.

"The weather makes it seem worse." Nikolai ran his hand through his wet hair, then wiped his face with his shirttail. "And if there are spirits lingering about? You forget what we are - any ghosts would do well to fear us."

Fear them? No living thing could touch her.

"It's actually ideal because the place scares people away," Nikolai continued over another bout of thunder. "And the Valkyrie compound isn't far from here - not many from the Lore will venture anywhere near their home."

Valkyrie? Lore? She remembered a newspaper article a few years back on "Gang Speak." These men were speaking Gang. They had to be.

Murdoch said, "Perhaps the Valkyrie won't appreciate vampires so close to Val Hall."

Vampires? Not Gang? They're all mad. Mon Dieu, I need a bourbon.

"Is it even habitable?" Sebastian asked in a scoffing voice.

Nikolai nodded. "The structure and the roof are solid - "

As rock.

" - and once we do some modifications, it'll be suitable for our purposes. We'll fix just what we need: a couple of bedrooms, a shower, the kitchen. I already had the witches come around today to do an enclosure spell along the perimeter of the estate. As long as Conrad's wearing those chains, he can't escape the boundary."

Witches? Oh, come now! Néomi moved to rub her temple, felt nothing, but was somewhat soothed by the familiar act.

In the lull, Murdoch cased the main salon, plucking at cobwebs. "Conrad knew we were going to be at the tavern."

"No doubt of it," Nikolai answered, crossing to a dirt-caked window to glance outside. "He was awaiting us. To kill us."

"Obviously he's gotten good at it." Sebastian patted his ribs in an assessing manner and winced. Looking more closely, she could see that they all seemed injured in some way. Even Conrad appeared to have been clawed across the chest by some beast. "He likes it."

Likes to kill? A murderer in my home. Again. Was he the same kind of man as Louis - one who would stab a defenseless woman through the heart? Tamp it down, Néomi... . The wind picked up. Control the emotion.

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