Home > Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(7)

Dark Needs at Night's Edge (Immortals After Dark #5)(7)
Author: Kresley Cole

These memories demand to be acknowledged, to be experienced. Before they'll be allayed, each must be relived, eking away his sanity.

And he has none left to lose.

8

Néomi was fairly much an open book - open about her sexuality, her body, her opinions. But she had two dirty little secrets.

One of which was her penchant for relocating an odd item here and there that didn't belong to her.

Inside her hidden chamber, behind the concealed Gothic entrance, she placed her new acquisitions on the display table. Here lay all of her trinkets and treasures picked up from tenants over the years.

The table was nearly filled. Soon she'd have to employ the coffee table. Not a bad take, considering Elancourt had been occupied for only about a third of her afterlife.

So I tend to steal a lot.

She didn't necessarily appropriate things of value, more items that intrigued her. Among the contraband: a battery-operated TV with the batteries long dead, a fairly modern bra, a gramophone, and a box of condoms she would've paid thousands for in the twenties.

She had matchbooks and Mardi Gras doubloons, candy she'd never eat, and about a dozen spray-paint cans confiscated from myriad teenage vandals.

With slammed doors, flying sheets, and tempests of leaves, she'd scared les artistes graffiti past the point of spontaneous urination, at which time they always dropped their paint and ran. This was Néomi's home, her entire world. She refused to read poorly crafted "art" for the rest of her days.

Like a bird feathering her nest, she'd collected things from outside and brought them within her hidden enclave. This room used to be her dance studio - with ballet barres, a wood parquet floor, and wall-to-wall mirrors. The studio itself was largely untouched, though newspapers were stacked everywhere, and the mirrors had been modified to fit her current appearance. In other words, she'd broken them.

In the days after her death, when movers had brought in boxes for all her belongings, she'd yearned so passionately to smuggle them back to this room, they'd actually moved. That was how she'd first recognized she had the ability to transport things with her mind.

In a mad dash, she'd levitated all the things she'd valued: her jewelry, clothes, scrapbooks, her prohibited stash of liquor, and even her weighty safe, conveying them to the hidden studio.

Yet now she could do nothing but watch her possessions age right before her. Just like her home. She couldn't feel any of them, couldn't run her greedy fingertips over a spill of cool silk or the tickling tip of a feather... .

"Now what?" she asked aloud.

The echoing silence seemed to mock her. Alone... alone... alone...

Néomi considered materializing to the vampire's room - or tracing there. She assured herself it was the pressing quiet that spurred her to debate returning, and not the madman himself. But he did seem to sense her the best of anyone who'd ever come to Elancourt.

Even if he was insane and unwashed, something about him drew her. She had the undeniable urge to talk to him more.

Yet in the end, she was too exhausted to return, her essence depleted from all the energy she used for her concentrated telekinesis. Needing to rest, she floated to her cot.

Long ago, she'd brought it into the studio. Though she couldn't feel it or the blankets she'd strewn over it, she slept there almost every night. As much as possible, she liked to behave as she had when alive - except for drifting through walls and tracing, of course.

She curled up an inch above it for her reverie. Néomi termed her ghostly sleep a reverie because it differed from what she'd known when living. She didn't have to have it every day. If she didn't use telekinesis for more than moving the newspaper, she could go days without it. Waking was instantaneous, with nothing altered except her energy level. She still wore the same clothes, her hair was unchanged, and she never needed to shave her legs and underarms. Normally, she only lost consciousness for about four hours.

That is, until the sliver moon came each month. On that one night, some force compelled her to dance. Like a ghostly marionette, she spun to the same gruesome end, left exhausted and shaken, wishing for a true death.

There were only three days left until her next performance... .

Her maman had always said the sliver moon was lucky for people like them - people who hold on to the sky with all their might, and do it again and again. No matter how many times they lose it. That was why Néomi had scheduled her party on that night.

Lucky wasn't the first term she'd use to describe that party - the one meant to celebrate the achievement of all her dreams. At twenty-six, Néomi had bought this place on her own, after working her way out of the Vieux Carré - all the while managing to keep her shady background a secret.

Her uptown patrons had never found out that Néomi was a French émigrée's bastard born in the seedy French Quarter. They hadn't connected Néomi Laress to Marguerite L'Are, the infamous burlesque dancer.

They hadn't discovered that, for a time, Néomi had been one, too.

After her maman had succumbed to influenza when Néomi had just turned sixteen, she'd begun doing shows. Néomi had been well developed then, and with the right makeup and costumes, she'd passed for twenty. Times had been tough, and the money was good.

She'd had no inhibitions, no moral convictions against it. Everyone got what they needed, and no one was hurt by it. Though she'd never been ashamed of what she'd done, she'd kept it secret because she'd understood that others wouldn't view it the same way she did.

After a year of saving up money, Néomi had quit. She'd always dreamed of being a ballerina and hadn't wanted to waste all those lessons her mother had scrimped to afford - and all the work Néomi had done to justify the incredible sacrifice. And somehow, she'd made it... .

Then I died.

She wished Conrad could have seen her as the ballerina she'd once been - onstage in a luxurious costume, flushed with pride, inundated with lusty applause. Would he have found her pretty?

She sighed glumly. She would never know... .

What would tomorrow bring with Conrad, the vampire assassin with his powerful body and ailing mind? As she drifted off to reverie, she wondered, Can we save him when he doesn't want to be saved?

We?

The ghost doesn't return the entire night.

And he resents her for it.

It takes till late the next afternoon before he smells the scent of roses. The room is lit with afternoon sun, but he can still see her floating directly through the closed door. He knows what to look for now, how to look for her, like a hidden message in a visual puzzle.

She acts as if she's never left, absently lying back across the mattress and stretching her slender arms above her head. Her long hair flows out over the sheet - shining black, stark against the white. Her pale br**sts are barely contained by her dress.

She's forgiven.

If he isn't blooded, then why does this view captivate him? Why does it make his fangs ache?

Chapter 5

He continues to debate the possibilities of fractured memory, hallucination, or ghost. As far as a fractured memory goes, she fits this place, this situation, too perfectly. And if she's a figment of his imagination, why would he imagine a woman the opposite of what he is normally attracted to?

He thought he liked tall, Nordic women with fair hair and their skin sun-pinkened from the outdoor life. But this female's tiny and pale, not much over five feet tall. Her hair is black as night.

During his harsh human life, he would've scarcely spared a pitying glance at her, predicting the delicate girl wouldn't last though the next winter in their war-torn country.

And she hadn't survived long. She appears to be no more than in her early twenties. If ghosts were born of violence, then how had she met her end so young?

She wouldn't have if she'd had a strong protector. I was strong. He stifles a low growl. I'd have kept her safe if she'd been mine.

Maybe he wouldn't have predicted her doom over the winter and turned away. Maybe he would've approached her. In his rough way, he could have attempted to garner the position as her protector. He was a skilled officer. He'd been born a nobleman - and at least before the Great War, that had meant something. Perhaps she would have accepted him.

My God, to have had such a woman in my keeping... to have taken her each night.

He can imagine what that would be like. During the day, his nightmares have been varied with strange new dreams of pinning her arms over her head and mounting her luscious little body.

There's a line... there's a line... 

Could this woman possibly be real? This would mean that not only is the ghost not imagined - it would mean he's gone three days without a single hallucination. A hundred years have passed since that happened last.

Which would mean, he might be... healing.

Like a starburst between his eyes, he finally remembers what he'd regretted, what he'd coveted so badly -

Nikolai and Sebastian enter then, their expressions grim. Why is Nikolai holding a syringe? In a tone low with warning, he says, "What's the goddamned shot for? I haven't done anything."

"No, but we fear you will," Nikolai says. "We need to take you from the room - and this will keep you from getting hurt."

When Nikolai nears, he yells, "Get the f**king thing away from me, Nikolai!" He doesn't want to be mindless, can't have that happen again. "No!"

I don't want her to see me like that.

"Damn you, I said no!"

9

Néomi was stunned anew at how viciously Conrad fought the two men, pounding his forehead against Sebastian's and nearly taking off Nikolai's hand with his fangs.

In the end, his resisting gained him no ground. They injected him once again. Just before it took hold, Conrad stared in her direction with his brows drawn and teeth gritted, and she found that so much harder to see now.

When did my curiosity turn to caring?

His brothers had treated him like an animal - because that was how he'd acted mere days ago. She understood the need to keep him contained, because he was so incredibly powerful and could be dangerous if freed.

But he'd been doing so much better. And they hadn't even given him a chance... .

As Nikolai and Sebastian led him, docile and barefooted, into the oversize master bathroom, Conrad's eyes were heavy-lidded, and he'd begun speaking in that low, unnerving voice. His wrists remained chained behind his back. They must be intent on washing him. Curious, she followed them in.

Néomi's second dirty secret? As a ghost, she'd become quite the voyeur.

She'd watched men shower before, but she'd never been so intent to discover what a particular man's body would look like as she was now.

While Sebastian adjusted the water temperature and opened a bar of soap, Nikolai ripped away the remains of Conrad's tattered shirt.

From her spot halfway up the far wall, Néomi sighed, admiring Conrad's powerful physique. She hadn't appreciated exactly how tall he was because he'd been lying down for so long. He would tower over her if she stood near him.

He had a narrow waist and h*ps and broad shoulders that looked tailor-made for a woman to hold on to during sex. With his hands behind his back, the corded muscles of those shoulders and his chest were stretched taut, displayed so attractively.

He was all male hardness, with so many scars marring his flesh, like the narrow one slashing up his torso. But she'd begun to find the evidence of his formidable life attractive, had begun imagining a scenario for each battle wound.

She'd seen Conrad fight with a ferocity that astonished her. She could all too easily see him brandishing a sword three hundred years ago, a massive warlord fearlessly storming a battlefield... .

A ragged bandage on his arm caught her attention. Sebastian too frowned at the gauze, tearing it off to reveal a peculiar, blackened injury. "What the hell is this?" It appeared as if he'd been attacked by a beast, and then the skin around the mark had died.

Why would Conrad have healed from the gashes across his chest, but not from another wound?

Nikolai narrowed his eyes. "With his strength, he should have mended that easily by now. Maybe if he cleans it, it will improve."

"Christ, look at all the scars, Nikolai."

"I had no idea he'd sustained this many hits during the war," he answered, moving behind Conrad to inspect his back.

"Maybe he had them before the war." Sebastian yanked free Conrad's belt. "Think about it - he never worked without his shirt, and he continually went off by himself. He could have been a highwayman for all we know... ." He trailed off at Nikolai's expression. "What?"

"Come look at this," Nikolai said, so Néomi followed Sebastian around. All three of them frowned at an elaborate black tattoo covering his entire right shoulder blade. It was unusual, with its slashing lines, but compelling in a way. "Isn't that the mark of the Kapsliga Uur?"

What's the Kapsliga Uur? Why did their faces pale at the very idea?

"That can't be right," Sebastian said, an edge to his voice. "We'd have known. They recruit young. He couldn't have hidden his involvement for two decades."

Seeming lost in his own world, Conrad continued his rasping mutter, unaware of their discovery.

"He always did his own thing, always brushed off questions about where he'd been or with whom," Nikolai said. "My God. He'd been out hunting vampires with the Kapsliga. No wonder the turning maddened him."

Sebastian's face was grim. "He would have been trained to destroy vampires, his hatred of them stoked from the time he was a boy."

"And then I turned him into what he despised." Nikolai released a breath through his teeth as though he'd been kicked in the stomach. "It would have been unendurable."

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