Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(6)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(6)
Author: Kresley Cole

But they do.

Then... for the first time, he sees her face. And just stifles a curse. He hadn't been deluded that first night.

Figures she'd be f**king beautiful. He grates a short laugh. He would imagine nothing but the best.

Those big blue eyes are another shot of color in her black-and-white image. She has a pert, slim nose and smooth, translucent skin. Her lips are pale, but they're full, especially the bottom one.

As if she feels his scrutiny, she turns to him, easing to her feet. Eerie grace. He makes his expression blank while keeping her in his field of vision.

She tilts her head. Is she studying me? Can she see without the light?

No, she's not real. There's a line between having hallucinations and interacting with them... Can't cross the line.

She appears to walk, though she is floating off the ground. And she's coming directly toward the bed. What does she want from him? Closer... closer...

He dimly hears Sebastian ask, "Do you know what will happen to you when your Bride bloods you? Your heart will start to beat again, and you'll begin to breathe once more. The air is cold and heavy in your lungs, but the pressure feels good if you don't resist it. And then, with some encouragement from her... all of you will come back to life, like a fire's been lit."

A fire lit. In other words, he'll be able to get hard again.

But unlike every other vampire he's known, he doesn't want to be blooded. He likes the stillness within him, will hold on to it with everything he is. Dying isn't so daunting a prospect when you're halfway there... .

Creeping closer to his side, the female lowers her tilted head. Listening to my chest? She's heard Sebastian explaining the lack of a heartbeat and decided to see for herself. Which means she's sentient.

He's held out hope that she is a mindless spirit, unaware of her actions. Or that she's been like him in bloodlust - unthinking, reacting on instinct. Instead, she is very aware. Suddenly, his position embarrasses him. Chained in bed, at the mercy of others. This is the weakest he's ever felt in his entire life.

No, there was another time... .

Up close, he can see flashes of her ghostly hair tumbling over her shoulder. He swallows, closing his eyes as he waits to feel her hair across his skin. He can't perceive more than electric pinpricks. They don't hurt him; they're not unpleasant.

When she flits away, he cracks open his lids. Her lips are parted in surprise. "How strange, dément... your heart's truly still."

He just stops himself from jerking back from her, because the ghost is addressing him directly.

That's it. He's lost his f**king mind.

Her echoing words come slowly. As if they've traveled from miles away. He can scarcely hear them - which means no one else would be able to. His hearing is ten times more acute than even his brothers'. A hundred times more than a human's.

He knows she's not speaking to him in the hope of a response, seems to be just testing speech. She looks like she's tasting the words, determining how they feel rolling on her tongue.

Wait... Did she call me dément? It means madman in French. He feels heat on the back of his neck. Though most times he reacts just like an animal, sometimes, very rarely, he suffers the emotions he thought he'd lost - like shame.

There's a line... But is that how she sees me?

"You know all this, don't you?" Sebastian asks, exhaling. "Aren't you even curious about being blooded? We were forced to do without so much. There is a lot that your Bride could make up for."

This yanks his attention from the ghost. Don't you dare, Sebastian! Don't bring this up... .

7

Sebastian lowered his voice to say, "Wouldn't you want to bed a female once more? It isn't like you were a man of experience, glutted on women, Conrad. If you're anything like me, you can count the number of times on one hand."

Conrad didn't deny his brother's words, instead grinding his teeth, his jaws bulging. The number of times on one hand? How awful, Néomi thought, floating to the foot of his bed to hover there in a sitting position.

Though she herself hadn't taken as many lovers as she would have liked - the specter of pregnancy for a working ballerina was too daunting - the ones she'd had, she'd enjoyed to the fullest.

Even with the filth covering Conrad's face and the scars on his body, she could tell he had pleasing features. Women would find him attractive. At least enough that he could bed one when he wanted to. And Sebastian was handsome, yet he'd said they'd been forced to go without. She'd heard them talking about their small country having been decimated by plague, embattled for decades - were there no women to take succor from?

"Le dément... isn't a man of experience?" she murmured in her weird, ghostly voice. "Intéressant."

Though it was still difficult to speak, she marveled at how much more readily her words came with each try. The more she talked, the easier it was becoming, like training oneself to run through knee-high water. Too bad no one would answer, just when she was getting good at it.

Yet even if no one responded, talking made her feel more... real. Sometimes she felt like the proverbial falling tree in the forest. It could be argued that because no one had seen her or heard her since she'd died, she didn't exist.

She sighed and drew her legs to her chest. When the slit in her dress rode up, she had the strange impulse to cover her legs in front of the vampire. But why? She couldn't be seen, and she'd certainly never been modest when living. Indeed, she was just the opposite.

Any inhibitions had been drummed out of her when she'd been young. She'd been raised in tiny lodgings above a burlesque bar, with her dear maman eventually becoming one of its best draws.

From an early age, Néomi had flitted in and out of the performers' dressing rooms, fascinated with the silks, makeup, and exotic perfumes, enthralled by the sensual strains of music that compelled her to sway to them... .

Yet she could have sworn there had been a lustful aspect to the vampire's gaze.

No. It was time to face the facts. Either he found her spectral appearance beautiful, had mastered his blink reflex, and simply refused to acknowledge her - or he was just like every other person who'd set foot in this house over the last eight decades.

She gave a humorless laugh. "If I thought you could see me," she began slowly, "I'd show far more than a garter."

Besides, Conrad wouldn't be interested in her like that. Never once in the past week had he grown erect. Was it impossible for him? Was that the "fire" that would be lit by his Bride?

Of all the subjects the men discussed, this Bride concept intrigued her most.

Earlier, she'd heard Sebastian on the phone with his, earnestly assuring her that she didn't need to be here, that she should keep working with her sisters, and that he would be home soon. Even the mere phone conversation with this Kaderin had seemed to consume him.

Nikolai had also phoned his Bride, another Valkyrie named Myst, and was equally attentive. But with her he'd sounded less confident about Conrad's recovery than he'd been with his brothers. In a low tone, he'd said, "We might have to use Riora's gift."

Who is Riora? Another mystery.

The two men's devotion to their wives brought on Néomi's own longings, because nothing was sexier to her than a thoroughly smitten male.

She called her desire longings since it was different from the physical symptoms of lust she'd felt while living. She suffered from what she remembered of desire, still hungering to touch and be touched, but now the need was more akin to an electrical stimulation, a charge that built and built. It was like having pinpricks and itching all over her, but no way to scratch.

Néomi had eighty years of those pent-up longings. As it was impossible for her to alleviate them, sometimes she felt like a ticking bomb set to go off - an aching, hungry, Néomi-shaped bomb.

In the face of her never-ending frustration, she tended to behave... badly.

And when the brothers all returned to the room, the temptation was too much to resist.

When she rises from the bed, he waits a moment, then casts her another glance. And nearly coughs. Sebastian's money clip is floating from his coat pocket into her outstretched palm.

Then she deposits a... pebble in exchange? Sebastian doesn't notice, even when she transports the clip away.

Telekinesis? Yes, and well controlled.

After a cagey glance at him - he swiftly makes his gaze blank - the female prowls for her next mark. She maneuvers around them, yet even with her speed, sometimes they pass a hand or an elbow through her. Each time she grows still, then quivers as though shuddering.

Nikolai is next. With a wave of her hand, a cell phone floats out of his jacket. Again the entity drops a pebble before floating the phone over to the corner.

This cat-and-mouse game entertains him, and he wants her to fleece the bastards. She's far more interesting than Sebastian's patronizing speech about family and honor and forgiveness.

He wonders where the little being takes her spoils. Why does she take them? Is she playing now? Or is it a compulsion, like his need to kill?

For Murdoch's turn, she plucks a woman's jeweled hair comb right out of his pocket. Just who is Murdoch buying combs for?

She smiles delightedly at her prize. That smile... Her eyes glitter, her lips curving. She might as well have been carrying a weapon.

As she glides toward the corner, she raises her slender, bared arms above her and does a flawless pirouette. Then another. Her skirts flare out, and he hears them rustling. A single rose petal wafts from her wild hair to the bed, landing on the sheet beside him.

Her lithe body, the way she moves, those slippers - she must have been a dancer. A tantsija. Of course.

When she twirls around again, she suddenly laughs. The sound is haunting. But for some reason, his lips curl in response to it. The grin turns to a scowl when Sebastian regards him as if he's completely gone. A vacant grin from a madman.

Because he is mad - there is no raven-haired spirit who wants to show him more than her garters.

And still he can't take his eyes from her as Sebastian starts up again. He hears snippets of his brother's words. As he tends to do when he's weary and wanting to be left alone, he repeats them, muttering back in a different language. "It eats at Nikolai, the guilt... they've been fighting the Vampire Horde for three centuries... . We can join their army... kill them off... . Not all vampires are evil."

He blinks when Sebastian falls silent.

With a narrowed gaze, Sebastian says, "You haven't been talking to yourself. You're repeating all of our words. This time in Greek! You weren't hallucinating - you were listening." Sebastian nods, as if he's encouraged by this. "I wonder what else you can do that we don't know about?"

I can see ghosts. In Estonian, he asks Sebastian, "To your right, you see nothing strange? No female in the room?"

Sebastian glances around. In the same language, he answers slowly, "There are only the four of us in the room, Conrad." His tone is one he'd use to explain, "Actually, brother, the sky isn't green. It's blue."

The female seems to have concluded her stealing and appears slower, fainter. Is she tired?

"Conrad, do you see someone else?" Sebastian asks. "Your kind is supposed to suffer from severe delusions... ."

His "delusion" is now listening in on Murdoch and Nikolai's murmured conversation at the edge of the room. "He reeks of blood and mud," Nikolai says. "He might be improving, but to others he wouldn't look like it. If we ever had to defend our plan... "

Without warning, she's on the bed beside him. From too close by his ear, she asks, "Is this true, vampire?" Her words come much more quickly, almost normally. He's able to discern that she has a tinge of a French accent.

"Do you reek, dément? I can't smell. But it makes sense... considering how dirty you are."

He becomes acutely aware that his face is caked with blood and mud, his hair stiff with it. Dément. Is that all she sees him as? A madman to be ignored? Or worse - pitied? That is how she sees him.

A filthy, sexually inexperienced lunatic.

She's seen him spit blood. Did she witness him mindlessly banging his head against the wall? Damn it, he's beginning to dislike this clarity! Again, he craves the oblivion of memories. It's easier to be awash in them, to hate, to hurt... .

Yet the female beside him moors his mind to the present like an anchor.

"They should give you a bath," she says in her whispery voice, just as Sebastian intones, "Rest easy, Conrad. The hallucinations will disappear before you know - "

"Leave me!" he snaps. He almost said, "Leave us."

The ghost drifts away, readying her loot to depart. No, not you! When she and the items vanish, all that's left of her is the petal on the sheet. He inches over, wanting to touch it. But it begins to fade. Then gone.

He shifts in the bed, restless and chafing in his bonds. Want her here.

Sebastian rises. "Very well, we'll go. Call out if you need anything - or if you feel like drinking."

They leave him in the darkened room. "Have you seen my cell phone?" Nikolai asks on the way out.

Before he has time to analyze why her absence could possibly disappoint him to this degree, others' memories bubble up in his mind as though from a wellspring.

Over the years, he hasn't killed honorable men, actually has taken out some who were even more monstrous than himself. And their memories, now his memories, chill him to his bones.

He sees scenes of torture he hasn't inflicted, harrowing murders of women and children he never committed. Glassy, sightless eyes stare up at him - but not him.

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