Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(4)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(4)
Author: Kresley Cole

The elation of the night had set her up for the bitterest disappointment. She gave one last frantic wave at his eyes -

He snapped his teeth, the sound like a bear trap; she reacted with a startled cry and raised her hands, shoving him away, sending him like a cannonball into the high-backed chair. When the chair slammed into the opposite wall, it collapsed from the impact, exploding into a cloud of splinters, tufts of upholstery filler, and plaster.

Battling to be freed from the shambles, he yelled in a foreign language, what had to be oaths. Yet he appeared to like the violence - or at least to be accustomed to it.

"Conrad... wait!" she managed to bite out. Where are the brothers? With their syringes? Yes, the three men were in and out, but they were never gone long.

Once he made it to his feet, he began tearing through the room, banging on the walls with his chained hands, knocking holes in the brittle plaster.

"Stop hurting... my house!"

He didn't. Instead, he snatched up the fireplace tools and swung them round, chucking them with so much force that the poker embedded itself into the brick of the fireplace, bobbing there. When his frenzied gaze landed on the defenseless nightstand, she said, "No closer."

Conrad charged for it. Without thinking, she swept him up to the ceiling. He closed his eyes tight, then opened them, seeming astounded to be still regarding the floor.

He thrashed and fought her hold. He was strong, and soon she was forced to drop him, more hastily than she'd intended - he landed flat on his face. When he rose, she saw that his forehead was gushing blood into his eyes and alongside his nose.

She hadn't meant to hurt him! "Dieu, je regrette!"

"Conrad!" Nikolai yelled from downstairs, appearing in the doorway a split second later. He swept a baffled glance over the chaotic scene. "What the hell are you - "

Nikolai never finished his question because Conrad swung his bound arms at him. As though hit by a battering ram, Nikolai flew out of the room and over the landing to the first floor.

Conrad charged out the door with a wide-eyed Néomi right behind him. Though his speed was still superhuman, he was slower than he'd been last night - even with his ankles free. They'd already weakened him drastically.

Chapter 3

As Nikolai lumbered to his feet, Sebastian stood on the stairs, arms outstretched. But Conrad planted his chained hands on the railing and leapt down, evading any contact. When he turned toward the front entry, he found Murdoch barring his way.

Nikolai yelled, "Conrad, it's impossible for you to leave! Damn it, the sun!"

What would happen to Conrad in the direct light of day? She gasped when he charged Murdoch, tackling him into the mahogany front doors. They wrenched one completely free of its hinges, flattening it onto the front porch.

Just before they surged into the morning sun, Murdoch traced back to the protective cover of the porch; Conrad continued. Should she try to stop him?

Nikolai started to follow, but Sebastian snatched his shirt and lugged him back to the shade. "He won't get far, Nikolai."

Néomi stood beside the brothers. Out of habit, she shaded her eyes as the four of them watched Conrad racing down the drive. I didn't mean to drop him like that. He must be so bewildered.

"He's going to burn," Nikolai said, sounding in pain.

Just as Néomi had, Murdoch put his hand to his forehead. "And then he's going to learn."

The sun sears his eyes as if they've been doused with acid. Fight on. The bayou is just down the drive, then across the road. He can scent the dark water.

His skin begins to burn. He grits his teeth against the pain.

Bayou just across the road. He can make it, could survive in the shade there. Flames growing.

He nears the property line. Gaining distance away from whatever entity seems bent on tormenting him. A being he can't see to fight, with no throat to savage. A disembodied voice had echoed all around him.

Almost there... Burning... burning...

Suddenly his sight goes black; a force shoves him back on his ass. Once his vision clears, his eyes widen. Crumbling blue walls surround him. He yells in disbelief. Confusion wells.

The same bedroom! He's in... the same goddamned room.

Crouched on the floor, he knocks his head against the wall again and again until the needle pierces his arm.

4

Something is happening to the patient.

Over the last week, Néomi had begun noticing an eerie awareness in those red eyes that wasn't there before, the blankness in his gaze receding with each day.

And she would know. She'd done little else but study him since his bizarre return, seldom retiring to her own room - her secret studio, hidden downstairs. Even now as Conrad lay in the bed once more, sleeping, she floated above the end of his mattress, continuing her vigil.

When he'd returned that first morning, he'd been raging, banging his head against the wall as if to blunt whatever was inside his mind. Plaster had snowed down on him and stuck to his bloody cheeks. Once the brothers had rechained him - tethering him to the bed this time - Conrad had been unreachable, drugged and muttering foreign words in his low, harsh voice.

To be fair, she would've been addled, too. One moment she'd been watching him running, the next she'd heard his unholy roar just upstairs.

No longer was Néomi the only one trapped here. Apparently, witches truly had put a boundary spell on Elancourt. As long as Conrad wore those chains, he couldn't cross the property line. The chains also rendered it impossible for him to teleport - or trace, as they called it.

Néomi couldn't put her finger on exactly when she'd first sensed a change in him. Whenever his brothers had spoken to him, Conrad had muttered incoherently, and yet she'd begun to get the feeling that he was... coherent. At least intermittently.

Sometimes it seemed as if he was trying to filter a million thoughts in order to speak only one, and that was why he had difficulty talking normally. On occasion, even his accent changed... .

He began twisting then, his head thrashing, no doubt caught in the grip of a horrific nightmare. Conrad routinely suffered them. With his fangs seeming to sharpen at intervals, he writhed, muscles straining, the chains cutting into his skin. She frowned. She didn't like to see that.

Even though everything about him should repel her, she found herself striving to be impassive. He'd destroyed parts of her house. He was a killer. He continued to have flashes of violent aggression. And he was filthy. His face was still coated with mud, blood, and caked-on plaster, his hair tangled in thick knots. Burn marks radiated over his skin and blackened his ratty clothes. When Sebastian had tried to wipe clean his charred face, Conrad had snapped his teeth at him so fast, Sebastian had almost lost his fingers.

Néomi should hate Conrad. So why did she find herself so drawn to this big male, with his terrifying dreams?

Because, like her, he knew the horror of being murdered? He might be reliving it even now.

Was Conrad merely a lost soul to be pitied? Or a man worthy of rescue? Néomi had never been very interested in Men Who Needed Saving. There were women enough out there for them -

At that moment, he jerked awake, his eyes darting yet blank. Arching his body around, he opened his mouth and sank his fangs into his own arm. With his brows drawn, he sucked slowly as if for comfort.

And her heart melted. "Merde," she whispered.

When he gave a short, ireful growl against his arm, she eased beside him on the bed. "Hush, vampire," she sighed, brushing his hair from his forehead with a telekinetic stroke. "Hush, now." He stilled, gradually releasing his bite to lie back and slumber on, as if he'd been soothed by her... .

Each night until sunrise, as the brothers attempted to reach him, Néomi floated about the ceiling, listening. Though she simply enjoyed hearing the rhythms of the men's conversations, she had also been learning much about these people.

They were from Estonia, a Baltic country bordering Russia, which explained their accents. Men from the Northlands. They'd been turned into vampires - three hundred years ago. Before then, they'd fought in the Great Northern War against Russia as noblemen officers, though eventually they'd wrested control of Estonia's floundering army. Each brother had become a warlord, leading the defense of a section of their country, under the ultimate command of Nikolai, the eldest.

At first, she'd remained in Conrad's room because she'd been hopeful about him seeing her. Now she stayed because she was intrigued by the crazed vampire.

His history was like an incomplete puzzle, and with each piece of it she received, the whole grew more riveting. He'd been highborn, but ultimately had used his military experience and his vampiric strength to become an assassin. He'd planned to kill his own brothers in retaliation for some deed she hadn't yet learned.

He'd been alone and friendless for centuries.

His past was so different from hers - with all the dancing and laughter and letting the good times roll - they were poles apart.

Yet with each revelation came more questions. He was obviously a powerful man, so what could have broken his mind like this? And how could he remain in bed day after day? Did vampires have no bodily functions?

Each night they'd brought a thermos from the new refrigerator to Conrad, and Néomi was fairly certain she knew what was in it. But exactly where did they get it? And since Conrad was refusing to drink the contents, how long would it be before he starved?

She'd watched him sleeping for more hours than she could count - why had he never once grown hard as men unwittingly did in sleep?

When dusk approached, and the brothers returned downstairs, Conrad's eyes flashed open instantly.

She crossed to the door, floating in it, so that half of her remained outside the room, and half was inside. Still she could barely hear them downstairs. But she could see Conrad's reaction and realized that he could hear them, even with the heavy door closed.

"After seeing him in this condition," Sebastian said, "I'm beginning to understand why none of the Fallen have ever come back from bloodlust."

"No one before has had the tools we do," Nikolai answered. "We've agreed to spend a month trying to rehabilitate him. If he shows no signs of improvement, then we'll do what must be done."

Conrad's listening to them. Intently. She wondered what he must be thinking.

"That was before I saw him, Nikolai. Maybe we need to... to put him out of his misery." Is he in misery?

Conrad's jaw clenched, and his expression grew deadly. Yet then his brows drew together as if he was considering the possibility right at that moment. When he frowned and closed his eyes, she felt a twist in her chest.

The vampire is in misery. And he's sane enough to know it.

Misery? What the f**k do they know of it? He shakes his head as if to jar loose the thought.

He easily hears them downstairs as Murdoch explains what he's learned about the Fallen, vampires who kill by drinking blood. "Loud sounds other than their own yells enrage them. Quick movements do as well - they react to them as if they're threats, no matter how benign. Being taken unaware would send one into a fury. Any sense of their own physical vulnerability triggers rage."

"Why don't you just explain what doesn't enrage them?" Sebastian asks.

There is little that doesn't, he thinks, just as Murdoch says, "That would be a short explanation."

He blocks them out, his musings turning to the mysterious entity again.

The being can be one of three things. He thinks. An echo from a fractured memory, a hallucination, or a ghost. He has nearly three hundred years of experience with the first two possibilities - and none with the latter. The first pair are figments of his twisted mind. The ghost would be unimagined.

Can't determine what's real or what's illusion. For the last week the being has returned to his room. He's begun seeing her again, though not as much as that first night. Only a faint, glowing outline now. But he can scent her presence. Even now, he's awash in the smell of roses.

Whenever she comes to him, so do flashes of his lucidity. He doesn't understand the connection, just knows he's beginning to crave the focus of his thoughts.

A mystery. How could a figment of his mind clear his mind? Even as he's debating her existence - he's realizing that something is actually making him coherent enough to f**king debate her existence.

Maybe the shots they keep forcing on him are helping.

He can't recall much of what happened the morning he'd tried to escape. But he thinks that she'd been trying to undress him and possibly had attempted to kiss him - before casting him about the room.

Yet the being never attacked him again. Usually she stays near the window seat. Though he has sensed her at the foot of his bed on more than one unnerving occasion.

For years, he's constantly felt as if he was being watched by something unseen - now he actually could be.

No. He sees shadowy figures every day. Why should he think she's different? Because she has a scent? Because, for the first time, he wants a hallucination to be real?

He knows there's a line between suffering from hallucinations and interacting with them. You can live with the former; the latter means you're lost.

Over the last century, he's held on to the last of his sanity by his fingertips. Acknowledging her might just be the weight around his ankles needed to drag him down.

Even as he knows this, he speculates about her constantly. If she exists, then she's a ghost. Weren't ghosts born of violent deaths or murder? So how did she die? And when? Is she even sentient? He's seen her eyes and her long hair. What does the rest of her look like?

Why are my goddamned thoughts so lucid around her?

His brothers sound as if they're about to come to the room. He doesn't want this. Each day the entity grows clearer as the sun sets and the room dims. But when his brothers arrive, she fades. He's realized that the uncovered new bulb above is too bright - the unnatural light obscures her. Darkness would reveal her to him.

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