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Authors: Claire Ashgrove

Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Gothic, #Paranormal

Immortal Surrender (6 page)

BOOK: Immortal Surrender
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“Farran, you cannot be serious. She must be paired at once. ’Tis written—”

“She is mine, Lucan.” With the vile truth exposed, Farran stormed out the door.

*   *   *

Noelle stirred inside her warm cocoon. Snuggling deeper into what felt like a pile of down, she savored the last fragments of the dream where Farran had held her. Such wonderfully strong arms. Hard and gentle all at once. And he smelled good too. Like wet woods and oranges. All man.

Eyes still closed, she smiled and rolled over to cuddle with her pillow. As she moved, the dull throb of pain cut through her early morning bliss. She winced and opened her eyes. Instead of the muted blue of her room, warm yellow covered the walls. Frowning, she searched for the explanation as to how she got here.

“Good eve, damsel.” Low and rough, Farran’s voice washed over her.

In a flurry, reality crashed into her. Not a dream—he’d saved her after the SUV flipped. He’d carried her to another vehicle, and he’d rescued her from the cold.

The heavy blanket covering her slipped as she sat up. It caught on her breasts, exposing bare skin to chilly air. She clutched at the brushed cotton, desperate to cover herself, and felt the heat of embarrassment crawl up her throat. Naked. How absolutely mortifying.

“There is no need for modesty, Noelle. I have seen it all before. ’Twas I who undressed you when you proved too difficult for Louise to shift.”

The heat in her cheeks intensified, and she dropped her head to hide her humiliation. He’d seen her naked. No one had ever seen her naked. God, he’d know how small her boobs were, discover her bra was padded. Covering her burning face with her hands, she groaned. “You were supposed to be my hero, not my humiliator.”

Heavy footsteps approached the bed. “I am no one’s hero, damsel. How do you fare? Your head, does it pain you?”

Fingertips moved through her hair, pushing it out of her face. A strong hand cupped her chin, tipped her head toward the light. He brushed his thumb over her temple, and she winced. “Ouch.”

“’Tis no wonder. You have a baseball of a knot.”

She stared at his abdomen as he inspected her wound. This close, the scent she’d remembered so vividly engulfed her. Memories of how comfortable his arms had been swamped through her, and she resisted the overwhelming temptation to lock her hands around his waist and rest her cheek against his massive chest. How this giant of a man could possess such a gentle touch mystified her. Yet his fingers were nothing less than tender.

With a satisfied nod, he stepped away. His gaze lingered, probing her with unsettling ale-brown warmth. “Your ribs. Can you breathe without pain?”

She nodded. “They hurt, but I’m okay.”

He reached for the blanket, as if he meant to inspect them as well, and Noelle scrambled backward into the pillows. Consternation creased his brow. The light in his eyes sharpened. “God’s teeth, woman, you cannot be that innocent. Let me see your injuries.”

Noelle blinked. For half a second she debated blurting out the truth. But for some unexplainable reason, she didn’t want Farran to know she’d only been kissed a handful of times. At twenty-nine years old, she
should
be more experienced with men. And this man clearly had no hesitancies around naked women. Besides, the last man she’d told had laughed so hard it had taken her weeks to confront her reflection in the mirror. She couldn’t stand the thought of Farran laughing at her.

Twisting sideways, she lowered the blanket to her hip, careful to keep her breasts covered. He set a knee on the bed and supported her opposite side with a large palm. Roughened fingertips grazed over the purplish marks on her ribs, firm enough she could feel his caress, yet gentle enough he didn’t disturb the lingering ache.

His touch sent a shiver down her spine. Warmth flowed through her veins, heating her from the inside out. It fanned into her belly, fluttered wildly, then spread lower. She averted her gaze and gnawed on her lower lip, trying to pretend this was normal. That men like Farran touched her intimately all the time. That this was no different than going to the doctor.

As she did when she had to face the degrading necessity of a yearly gynecological exam, she sought conversation. “Where am I?”

“In the adytum Louise tends.”

His breath washed over her shoulder, stirring the fine hairs on her skin. She squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed down a whimper. “The what?”

“’Tis a friend of mine’s home. Does that pain you?” He pressed his thumb into the spot he had before.

“No.” She snapped her eyes open.
Stay normal, Noelle.
She took a deep breath to temper the sudden erratic beat of her pulse. “How long have I been here?”

“You have slept for thirty-six hours.”

As he pivoted her to look at her back, his long hair tickled her arm. Unable to suppress a nervous giggle, she squirmed. The hand at her opposite side tightened. “Hold still.”

“Sorry.” Thirty-six hours. That meant … She twisted out of his hold to face him. “Oh, crap! Father Phanuel.”

Farran moved away from the bed. “The Sudarium is with Lucan. Phanuel has been informed. He is most understanding, I assure you.”

She scanned the room, in search of her purse. Had it survived the crash? “My purse, Farran. Did you find it?”

He pointed behind her, and she turned to look. Hanging from one of the mahogany posts, she found the oversized black bag. Relaxing, she sank into the wealth of pillows propped against the headboard and closed her eyes. “Thank you for taking care of me. I suppose I should be getting home now. I’ll have to call my boss and make arrangements for another flight.”

“Are you hungry?”

In answer to his question, her stomach rumbled. “I could eat.”

“Very well then.” He crossed to an overstuffed wingback chair and picked up what she assumed was her clothes. Setting them on the bed beside her, he added, “I shall bring you dinner. You may dress. Your sweater was ruined. Louise has given you a sweatshirt.”

With another disturbingly cold nod, he strode through the door.

Noelle looked after him for several long minutes, a wistful smile playing at her mouth. He was out of her league. One hundred percent the kind of man who pointedly ignored her on the few occasions she went clubbing. But damn, he was handsome. And the eccentric way he spoke stirred something so deep inside her she couldn’t explain it. He made her feel alive in a wholly feminine way she hadn’t ever experienced before.

For the first time in her life, she really wanted to be something other than the science geek with glasses. Especially something other than the terribly inexperienced twenty-nine-year-old she was.

Sighing, she leaned forward to pick up her bra. A pillow snagged on her arm, and she glanced down to find that damnable torc still wound around her bicep. Damn it. She’d lost her clothes, but she hadn’t managed to get rid of that thing.

Maybe not eating for thirty-six hours would help. She pushed at the trinket. Not surprisingly, it didn’t slip.

With a mutter, she slipped into her bra and eased her legs over the side of her bed. At least Farran had left her in her panties. He hadn’t seen
everything.
If he had, she didn’t know how she’d ever look him in the eyes again. She tugged on her jeans and stood on unsteady legs. Now, to find some lotion and try to get this ridiculous gift of Gabriel’s off.

Before Farran came back and found her half dressed.

 

CHAPTER 5

Farran hefted the wicker tray Louise had given him to one hand and twisted Noelle’s doorknob with the other. As he pushed the door open, he stilled, his head cocked to the side. Standing at the edge of the bed, engaged in a fit of temper, Noelle held her boot in one hand and smacked it into the heavy comforter. A throaty growl of frustration accompanied the harmless strike before she repeated the action again.

If he were not quite certain her mind was intact, he would have questioned her sanity in that moment. For such a tiny little woman, her temper seemed wholly out of place. She looked much like a hornet attempting to break through a glass prison. All fury, yet no bite. God help him—he chuckled.

The noise so surprised him, he nearly dropped her supper. He could not remember when last he laughed.

Yet he was not the only one surprised by his humor. At his short bark of amusement, she dropped the shoe and turned wide eyes his way. Her features changed to ash. Her jaw dropped with a squeak of surprise.

He could not still his tongue. “Tell me, damsel, what offense did the bed commit?”

She puffed out a breath that stirred the stray tendrils of hair around her face, and her shoulders slumped. ’Twas then she recalled her state of dress. Crimson flooded her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around her to cover her bra. Her modesty intrigued him. If he allowed himself, he could almost liken her to the maids he had once known. Those who would have rather died than be caught unclothed with a man in their chambers when they were unwed.

“I can’t get this thing off.” Her back half turned, she presented her left arm and the serpentine torc.

The subtle reminder of their circumstance squelched his misplaced humor. His smile died before it could take life. They would have to speak of this soon, for he could not keep her from the temple. Nor could he selfishly ignore his duty and pretend he knew not what she was. Still, he could not bring himself to confront the truth. Once he informed her, there would be no turning back.

He set the tray on the nearby dresser. “I brought you a bit of everything. I did not know what you would like.” He indicated a bowl of fruit, several slices of roast beef, a fried chicken leg, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a hunk of sourdough bread.

Her gaze followed his upturned hand, her eyes widening at the feast. “Thank you.” Still holding her arms over her chest, she bent awkwardly to retrieve her sweatshirt. As she slipped her unadorned arm in, she paused. A deep frown creased her brow, and she glanced over her shoulder. “I don’t suppose … Would you see if you can get this thing off?” She extended her arm.

Farran bit back a mutter. He eyed the twin serpents, debating. When he touched the torc, he could no longer delay explaining her circumstance. What happened then, only God knew. He held no hope she would embrace the knowledge. At best, she would do as Anne did and deny. At worst, she might well turn that temper on him.

Noelle wagged her arm in the air. “Yoo-hoo? It’s stuck. Can you give it a try? I put lotion on it.”

With a heavy sigh, he went to her and took her hand. Like a willing lover yielding to a mate, the torc slid easily to her wrist. Noelle’s gasp of surprise cut through the room. “How’d you do that?”

“’Twas not difficult.” He slid the torc back up her arm, fitting it neatly into place.

She gave him a look of disbelief. “Why’d you go and do that? I’ve been trying to get it off since we were at my apartment. I’ll never get it free now.”

Farran sat down on the edge of her bed, feeling much as if leaden weights hung off his legs. “I am quite certain ’twill give you no trouble.”

Her features scrunched together as if he had spoken in his native tongue. Testing his claim, she pushed at the torc with one finger. It dropped to her elbow. ’Twas the last bit of proof Farran needed to know, without a doubt, they were fated. As long as he was present, the torc would feel no need to lock itself in place.

“Did you stretch it?” She peered at him quizzically, then tried the armband once more. Again, it glided over her skin with no resistance.

“Nay. It recognizes me.” He let out a heavy sigh and pushed a hand through his hair.

“Huh?”

“Sit down, Noelle. We must talk.”’Twould not be easy either, judging from the cockeyed eyebrow she arched his way.

She tugged the sweatshirt over her head, pushed her left arm through, and flounced onto the bed at his side. With a teasing smile, she tipped her head to the side and asked, “You aren’t going to tell me it’s magical, are you?”

He hesitated for a heavy heartbeat. Then, he locked his gaze with hers and answered, “Aye, I am.”

*   *   *

The giggle started before Farran finished his brief response. It bubbled up Noelle’s throat and skipped free, the first bit of humor she’d felt since she’d rolled out of bed the morning of the accident. Magical torcs. Of all the absurd things. His sense of humor crept out at the most unexpected times. “Uh-huh. Nice try. You stretched it, didn’t you?”

“Nay, Noelle, I did naught.”

His deadpan expression made her giggle even harder, and she covered her mouth with her hand. If she could count all the artifacts she’d dated that came with some legend about curses or magical properties, she’d end up near a thousand before she slowed down enough to think. Not a one of them had brought her bad luck. Nothing helped her win the lottery, and no single object had healed the chemical burn on her hand.

Gabriel had tried to pull a couple of good ones on her too. Like the spear she’d dated for him three years ago. He claimed it tied back to the days of Christ. He’d sworn its authenticity so vehemently he’d almost convinced her. Until her research, however, disproved his theory when the data indicated it couldn’t be older than the late dark ages.

But Farran wasn’t laughing. Which meant—if he was anything like Gabriel—he wasn’t ready to confess his joke. She’d play along, humor him until he became satisfied he convinced her enough to grin and tell the truth. She swallowed down her smile and assumed a sober expression. “Okay. Tell me more.”

He pulled a leg up onto the bed and twisted to face her more fully. “’Twas created before the angels fell from grace and succumbed to Azazel’s influence. The serpents symbolize Nehushtan, the sacred snake of healing and salvation. It identifies those born from divine power, the descendants of the Nephilim.”

Oh, now this was definitely interesting. He’d even twisted theology to exclude Satan. Noelle choked down another renegade laugh. The man was good.

“When the floods came, they were given a choice—keep their powers and die, or surrender their divinity and become as man. Those who chose to live returned their torcs and were stripped of their longevity. The Almighty promised when the need arose, they would return to his grace and serve. They lived, they labored, they died.”

BOOK: Immortal Surrender
7.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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