Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(22)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(22)
Author: Kresley Cole

"Well?" Mari asked, spreading out contracts on the coffee table. "Are you reading anything on Néomi here?"

"I get nothing on her," Nïx said.

"Is that good or bad?" Néomi asked.

Nïx narrowed her eyes. "It's rare."

Mari offered a pen to Néomi. "Can I get you to sign here and here? Just an X will do." Néomi used telekinesis to craft a sloppy X. "Okay, and here. Nïx, would you witness?"

Nïx scrawled her signature, Nïx the Ever-Knowing, Proto-Valkyrie & Soothsayer Without Equal.

"Do I need to do anything to get ready?" Néomi asked.

"Why the urgency? I usually make clients wait forty-eight hours to mull their decision when the magick is irrevocable."

"I really like the Lore and want to see more of it. And there's this gathering tonight - "

"Ah, the Liv der Lanking, the Life of Lanking. A raucous party. We call it the Liver Spanking. Nïx here planned it."

Nïx nodded sunnily. "It's B.Y.O.S. Bring Your Own Sacrifice."

"Now, why do my spider senses tell me that Conrad Wroth might be there?" Mari asked.

"What? Will he, indeed?" Néomi said in a breezy tone.

Nïx added, "Naturally, you'll want him to see you flirt with other males and regret his words."

Néomi was uncertain what she planned to do if she saw him there. Part of her was dying to know if she could blood him. Part of her wanted to see if he'd held steady after three nights away. And yes, another part of her wanted to show Conrad that she wasn't pathetic, languishing away in her haunted manor.

"You can go with us," Mari offered. "My hubby's there with his kinsmen. He loathes girls' night out - throws a mantrum every week. So I suppose I could go relieve his misery."

"I'd love to go with you!" And if Conrad was there, maybe she should tell him to go to hell. To return the look of disgust and pity he'd given her. "I want to get dressed up and meet new people. I want to feel!"

"The gathering's going to be extreme," Mari said. "And you'll only be a human - with nary a ghostly power. Are you sure you'll be able to handle it?"

"I thrive on excitement."

"Adrenaline junkie," Mari said. "Got it. So this'll be a Cinderella redux. I feel all fairy godmotheresque." She peered at Néomi. "You're sure you want to do this?"

Néomi said, "My ball awaits."

"While I get ready, take a gander at the Liver Spanking live." Mari pressed her fingertips to the glass, studiously avoiding any direct eye contact with the mirror until after a scene had appeared. Raucous beings were dancing around a bonfire at least five stories high.

Beautiful chaos. Néomi yearned to be amidst it, even as she wondered if she could indeed handle being thrown into that pandemonium, a mortal among immortals.

"Check out my hubby." Mari altered the scene and pointed to a very huge and handsome male - who was scowling fiercely at his surroundings and then into his drink. "Damn, that werewolf melts my butter," Mari sighed. "He's so miserable," she added delightedly.

Néomi frowned. "That's Bowen MacRieve - your husband?" When Mari nodded, Néomi said, "He was supposed to come after Conrad in two weeks if he wasn't better. Could you get your husband to not, well, hurt Conrad?"

"I'll talk to him. But I didn't think you would care, seeing as the vampire called you pathetic."

"I do care, don't I?" Néomi sighed. She supposed she always would.

Because she might possibly have fallen a little bit - really a tiny bit - in love with Conrad.

"Why don't you go with the intent to forget all about him?" Mari asked. "After all, it's possible he could find his Bride tonight - and she might not be you. There'll be plenty of males there to distract you. Get Nïx to show you Cade and Rydstrom - buddies of mine and some of the hawtest demon brothers you'll ever see." She took her tiny cell phone from one of her many pants pockets. "Gotta make a quick call."

When Mari walked to the other side of the room, Nïx pointed out two horned males who were uncommonly attractive. "There's Cade, all flawless golden good looks and moral ambivalence. A perfect foil to mighty King Rydstrom with his scars and proud honor."

"Look at those eyes," Néomi breathed. Though one brother was lighter haired and one darker, they both had blazing green eyes.

"Oh, yes. They have eyes, too, don't they? Everybody says that's what has females begging to do the hula hoop under them. Either that or their accents - a cross between Aussie and Sith Ifrican. But I think it's the horns."

Shell-colored and pleasingly turned, their horns started just above their ears, curving back along their heads. Their shape and direction reminded Néomi of the laurel wreath crowns men wore in antiquity, though Rydstrom's horns were as battle-scarred as the rest of him.

"Yes," Nïx continued, "those sleek... rock-hard... lickable horns."

Had Nïx just growled? "It sounds like you want one of them. Or, uh, both."

"Oh, no, no. I'm Mike Rowe's beloved."

"Is this Mike down there?"

"No, Mikey's playing hard to get at present." Her eyes going vacant, she murmured, "But it will do you no good... you naughty little scamp."

Just then Néomi overheard Mari say, "Hey, Elianna... . Ha-ha, no, I don't need bail! I was wondering about that shell spell for ghosts. Is it corpus carnate or carnate corpus?"

Merde! The witch was having to get instructions?

Mari paused, then said, "I am too up for this... . Uh-huh, uh-huh... and that's why I won't get entranced, now, isn't it?"

Néomi was about to express concerns when Nïx said, "I put that vampire in your house. And I still don't know why." She leaned in, appearing genuinely puzzled. "Especially since you're going to die."

Néomi swallowed. "How do you know Conrad?"

"I know his brothers." Her voice took on a dreamy tone. "And I suppose I have an affinity for Conrad. I have squatters in my mind, too."

"So, I'm back!" Mari said. "Have you seen anything on Néomi? What course should she take?"

Seeming to come back to the present, Nïx told Néomi, "I see very little on you. I'm called ever-knowing, not all-knowing. But I know - for a fact - that the day anyone discovers what you're about to do will be your last."

"What do you mean?"

"No one besides the three of us can know the conditions surrounding your transformation. None can discover that you will begin a countdown as soon as you assume the shell body."

"Conrad's going to demand to know," Néomi said, then hurriedly added, "If he's there, and if I blood him, and if he apologizes for his past behavior, of course." And if he doesn't still feel that crazed sense of betrayal.

Nïx snorted. "I'm sure you can find ways to get around that, if you - oh, I don't know - want to live longer."

"Then we vow that none of us will ever talk about this," Mari said. "We'll never reveal that Néomi's time here is definite or how she was changed. Agreed?"

Néomi nodded firmly. "D'accord."

"Agreed," Nïx said. "I do so love unholy alliances."

"Good then. That's settled." Mari pulled out a compact mirror from another pants pocket. "And I'm ready for action. Are you sure, Néomi?"

Decades or even centuries as I've been versus even a single day of life? Néomi nodded. "Let's do it."

Mari opened the compact in her palm. "Okay, then. Now for the profound existential question." When she began to rub her thumb over the mirror, her eyes became silver, like mirrors themselves, reflecting Néomi's astonished expression. "What do you want to wear?"

26

Hours after he'd arrived, Conrad squeezed his head, grappling for control of his thoughts. This frenzied overload of the gathering was wreaking havoc with him. If the Fallen reacted badly to quick movements and loud noises, then he'd just stumbled onto a special kind of hell.

Return to her... 

He just wanted to find a way to tell her what he was thinking. To tell her that if he could take back his words, he would.

Right when Conrad was about to trace to Elancourt, he saw Tarut. All eight feet of him. The hulking demon was towering over an area crowded with other species of demons, accompanied by his gang of Kapsliga swordsmen. Each was shirtless with a wide leather band crossed over his chest. Conrad had once proudly worn the same.

His eyes narrowed when a haze of smoke suddenly appeared in the same area. A group of seven demons stepped from it, the Woede among them. Conrad had heard they'd somehow lost their ability to trace. Rök, the infamous fugitive, must be teleporting them. Just then Rök opened his mouth, sucking the smoke inside him again.

Tarut and the Woede - all three targets here for the taking, and more easily than normal. When Conrad engaged the Woede, they wouldn't hit their rage state completely, not without risking Conrad's life and the information he held. Rage demons in full demonic state were incredibly powerful, but near mindless.

And Tarut? Conrad no longer had to worry about being clawed by him.

Rydstrom and Cade didn't clasp forearms with Tarut in greeting. Instead, their hands remained near the hilts of their swords. Then Conrad saw Cadeon stiffen, his eyes narrowing on Tarut as if in realization. He dragged Rydstrom to the side, gesturing heatedly, while Rydstrom scowled in Tarut's direction.

So the demons knew they were hunting the same target - Tarut wanting to kill Conrad and the Woede wanting to keep him alive, at least for a time... .

Conrad tensed to attack, his fangs growing sharp.

That was exactly when he heard Néomi's laughter.

"Did you have to conjure that last bottle of wine?" Nïx said under her breath, but Néomi still heard her, even over the noise of the crowd and her own delighted laughter.

Fire. Creatures from myth. Revelry.

She was in heaven! For the first time in eighty years, Néomi was freed from Elancourt!

And, yes, she was a tad tipsy - had merlot always tasted so exquisite?

Now layers of sound meshed with layers of sensation: the constant rustle of leaves beneath her new leather boots. The scent of night-blooming jasmine and spent gardenias. A band tuning instruments in the background. The delicious closeness of her new dress.

When asked what she wanted to wear, Néomi had answered, "Anything but this godforsaken black satin party dress. Something with color! Something short and really sexy."

Mari had conjured a scarlet "body-conscious sheath" for Néomi. The shameless garment was long-sleeved but backless, and was shorter than anything she'd ever worn.

Hardly the couture of the pitiful!

Néomi's hurt over Conrad's words dwindled with each second - because she wasn't pitiful. Again she'd taken control of her destiny.

By God, it was heady. I'm like the old Néomi. The one who would roll the dice and laugh in the face of fate. She was going to get "capped," and she didn't give a damn!

"I had to do the bottles," Mari murmured in answer. "You saw her - she was freaking out."

At first the change had been overwhelming. Suddenly thrust into a world of perception, Néomi had stood in her studio, wide-eyed and struggling to adjust to the onslaught of feeling.

The weight of her body had abruptly pressed down on her feet, against a floor that was impossibly rigid. Her hair had pulled heavily along her back, and shivers had glanced over every inch of her skin.

It hadn't seemed to Néomi that she alone was changed, but that the entire world was altered, as if she'd been living in a dim bubble. Her new corporeal self had been shaking with sensation, dizzy with it. She'd patted her face in astonishment and whispered, "M-maybe this wasn't a good idea."

Mari had called what she was feeling hypersensitivity and said she had gone through the same not long ago. It would improve... .

"And we never would have gotten her to climb into the mirror otherwise," Mari added. "It was like trying to dunk a cat in acid."

Women with small boxes fastened on chokers walked by. "What are they wearing?" Néomi asked, a tad too loudly by the look on Mari's face. Each box had individual decorations or sayings painted on it.

"Voice modulators. The Sirenae are being polite," Mari explained. "If they sing, they could captivate all the unmated males here. Not very sporting."

One box read: "Yeah, you're welcome." Another read, "Boom! I got your boyfriend." Néomi laughed with delight. Sirens! Of course!

A group of elven-looking women strolled by, wearing nothing but gauzy skirts. Their chests were bare except for body paint styled in intricate leafy designs.

"Goody," Nïx muttered. "The dendrophiles."

"The dendro what?" Néomi said.

"Tree lovers - the tree nymphs."

Their obvious leader said, "Well, if it isn't Nucking Futs Nïx and the hex hack."

"Well, if isn't the hookers," Nïx replied blandly. "Oh, I'm sorry, nymphets, this isn't the orgy - that's down the road."

"Nïxie, every party is an orgy waiting to happen."

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