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

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

Prologue

New Orleans

August 24, 1927

 

I’ll kill you for spurning me... .

Struggling to block out memories of Louis Robicheaux’s latest threat, Néomi Laress stood at the top of her grand staircase and gazed out over the packed ballroom.

As she might cradle a babe, she held bouquets of roses swathed in silk. They were gifts from some of the men in the crowd of partygoers below, a motley mix of her rollicking set, rich patrons, and newspaper reporters. A sultry bayou breeze slid throughout the space, carrying strains of music from the twelve-piece orchestra outside.

... you’ll beg for my mercy.

She stifled a shiver. Her ex-fiancé’s behavior had become more chilling of late, his atonement gifts more extravagant. Néomi’s long-standing refusal to sleep with Louis had frustrated and angered him, but breaking off their relationship had enraged him.

The look in his pale eyes earlier tonight... She gave herself an inward shake. She’d hired guards for this event—Louis couldn’t get to her.

One admirer, a handsome banker from Boston, noticed her aloft and began to clap. The throng joined in, and in her mind she envisioned a curtain going up. With a slow, gracious smile, she said, “Bienvenue to you all,” then began descending her stairs.

No one would ever sense her anxiety. She was a trained ballerina, but above all things, she was an entertainer. She would work this room, dispensing teasing nibbles of sarcasm and softly spoken bons mots, charming any critics and coaxing laughter from even the most staid.

Though her arms already ached from cradling so many bouquets, and flashbulbs went off in glaring succession, her smile remained fixed. Another gliding step down.

She’d be damned before she’d let Louis ruin her night of triumph. Three hours ago, she’d given the performance of a lifetime to a sold-out house. For tonight’s soirée celebrating her newly renovated estate, Elancourt, the Gothic manor house was resplendent with the glow of a thousand candles. Through her dancing, she’d paid for the painstaking restoration of her new home and all the sumptuous furnishings inside it.

Every detail for the party was perfect, and outside, a sliver moon clung to the sky. A lucky moon.

Her dress for this evening was a more risqué version of the costume she’d worn earlier, the satin as black as her jet hair. It had a tight bodice that she laced up the front like a bygone corset and a slit in the skirt that almost reached up to where her garter belt snapped to her stockings. Her makeup was styled after the Hollywood vamps—she’d kohled her eyes with a smoky hue, donned lipstick of oxblood red, and painted her short nails a dark crimson.

With her jeweled choker and dangling earrings, the ensemble had cost a small fortune, but tonight was worth it—tonight all her dreams had finally come true.

Only Louis could ruin it. She willed herself to ignore her apprehension, inwardly cursing him in English and in French, which helped ease her tension.

Until she nearly stumbled on the stairs. He was there, standing at the periphery, staring up at her.

Usually so perfect and kempt, he had his tie loosened, his blond hair disheveled.

How had he gotten past the guards? Louis was filthy rich—had the bastard bribed them?

His bloodshot eyes were burning with a maniacal light, but she assured herself that he wouldn’t dare harm her in front of so many. After all, there were hundreds of people in her home, including reporters and photographers.

Yet she wouldn’t put it past him to make a scene or expose her scandalous history to everyone. Her uptown patrons winked at her and her friends’ colorful antics, but they had no idea what she was—much less of her past occupation.

Chin raised and shoulders back, she continued down, but her hands were clenching the roses. Resentment warred with her fear. So help her, God, she’d scratch his eyes out if he ruined this for her.

Just before she reached the bottom step, he began elbowing his way toward her. She tried to signal the burly guard at the opened patio door, but the crowd enveloped her, effectively trapping her. She attempted to make her way to the man, yet everyone wanted “to be the first to congratulate her.”

When she heard Louis pushing people behind her, Néomi’s soft-spoken apologies—“Pardonnez-moi, I’ll just be a moment”—turned to “Let me pass!”

He neared. Out of the corner of her eye she spied his hand fiddling with something in his jacket pocket. Not another gift? This will be so embarrassing.

When that hand shot out, she whirled around, dropping her bouquets. Metal glinted in the light of the candles. Eyes wide, she screamed—

Just before he plunged a knife into her chest.

Pain... unimaginable pain. She could hear the blade grating past her bones, felt a force so jarring the tip pierced through her very back. As she clawed at his arms, ugly sounds erupted from her throat; those nearest her backed away in horror.

This can’t be happening... .

Only when he released the knife with splayed fingers did her body collapse to the floor. Rosebuds scattered around her, their petals wafting around the jutting hilt. She stared dumbly at the ceiling as warm blood seeped from her back, pooling all around her. She perceived the silence of the room over Louis’s harried breaths as he knelt beside her, beginning to weep.

This isn’t happening... .

The first hysterical scream rent the quiet. People fled the scene, shoving and tangling all around them. She heard the guards finally yelling and fighting past the crowd.

And Néomi lived still. She was dogged, a survivor—she would not die in her dream home on her dream night. Fight—

Louis fisted the hilt once again, jarring the knife inside her. Agony... too much... can’t bear this... But she had no breath to scream, no strength to raise her limp arms to defend herself.

With a choking bellow he twisted the blade in the pocket of her wound. “Feel it for me, Néomi,” he gasped at her ear. Pain exploded, radiating out from her heart to every inch of her body. “Feel what I have suffered!”

Too much! The temptation to close her eyes nearly overwhelmed her. Yet she kept them open, kept living.

“See how much I love you? We’ll be together now.” The knife made a sucking sound when he yanked it from her. Just before he was finally tackled to the ground, he sliced his own throat ear to ear.

Her blood had begun to cool by the time a doctor crouched to grasp her wrist. “There’s no pulse,” he said to someone unseen, his voice raised over the commotion. “She’s gone.”

But she wasn’t! Not yet!

Néomi was young, and there were so many things she had left to experience. She deserved to live. I’m not dying. Her hands somehow clenched. I refuse to!

Yet as the breeze picked up once more, Néomi’s vision guttered out like a candle. No, no... still living... can’t see, can’t see... so scared.

Rose petals caught on the wind and tumbled over her face. She could feel each cool kiss of them.

Then... nothingness.

 

 

1

 

Outside Orleans Parish

Present day

 

Stay sane, act normal, he chants to himself as he strides down the rickety pier. On either side of him, water black like tar. Ahead of him, muted light from the bayou tavern. A Lore bar. A lone neon sign flickers over flat skiffs below. Music and laughter carry.

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