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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“There’s nothing like the Druid in the world either,” the Vampire spat at her, “and at least her power is developed! I can only absorb from one at a time! And what is she but a swallow or two?” He scoffed at the idea of feasting on the scrawny little girl.
“Then we’ll take it with us,” Ruth mused, eyeing the child, who was wriggling her way between two boulders shaded by a natural shelf. “We’ll wait for it to grow and show its powers. Then you can eat it and kill it so no one else will have a chance at whatever power it gives you.”
Nicodemous grunted noncommittally as he yanked up Bella’s torso by her arm, forcing the seizing woman against his chest. He opened his jaws wide, flashing vicious fangs that made Leah cower deeper into her cubby. Too terrified to make any further sound, she whimpered when he stabbed those wicked-looking teeth into her mother and ripped away at her flesh so she gushed blood into his mouth in a sloppy gluttonous mess.
Ruth did the child an unintentional favor when she bent down next to Leah’s hiding place and blocked her from seeing any more of the Vampire’s cruel feeding on her mother. Ruth reached between the rocks and tried to fish for Leah, but the child wisely kept out of reach, backing up into the dark cubby as far as she could go.
“Come here, girl. Don’t make me use magic on you. I’ll turn you into a lizard, you little brat.”
But Leah knew that as long as her mother was alive and perhaps for some time after that, her attackers would be completely powerless. She knew what her mother could do, all the things her mother could do. The Vampire could drink all he liked, but he would only be able to earn one of her mother’s powers. For all he knew, he would earn her very benign ability to read any language she saw.
But the child didn’t realize just how deadly that could be in a world full of black magic spell books in ancient and sometimes dead languages. Spells and magic that had faded away with the language they were written in. Powerful magics that once upon an age had been seen as biblical events, and perhaps still were.
Suddenly Ruth got hold of the hem of Leah’s dress and immediately fisted the material into her fingers, pulling her toward the narrow spot between the boulders she had escaped through. Desperate and panicked, Leah did the first thing that came to her mind. She grabbed hold of Ruth’s forearm, opened her mouth, and did some biting of her own. She did it as savagely and viciously as she had seen the Vampire do, taking great satisfaction in Ruth’s surprised screech and her immediate withdrawal. Leah scrambled back into her dark corner, this time making sure her skirt was well out of reach.
“You little bitch! Wait until I get my hands on you! I’m going to use you to beat your mother dead!”
“Lovely. That should charm her out of there,” Nico said dryly, earning a nasty look from his other half. She was a beautiful woman, tall and tan and cool blond, but her blue eyes oozed utter and exquisite madness, and when she glared at him like that she really came off quite ugly. He took it in stride. He had grown used to her rapidly fluctuating moods. And her volatility kept him from growing bored with her, something that happened easily to Vampires who were as long-lived as he. “Cast a spell to get to her,” he suggested. “Our innate abilities may be gone, but surely a spell will work.”
“And what spell do you suggest? There is no ‘Snag a Rotten Child’ spell.”
“You could be creative. Surely you can think of—”
Suddenly the Demon/Vampire team went still, both tilting their heads as they sensed the approach of another.
“We had better go,” the Vampire said, using a sleeve to wipe at his mouth. It did little good. He was saturated with the blood of Leah’s mother, and it was smeared and splashed all over his face, arms, and shirt. “We do not have any power, thanks to her.” He flicked fingers dismissively at Bella. “And as you see, it is not a good idea to fight dependent solely on our spell work.”
Ruth couldn’t argue with that. Instinct told her that whoever was coming was very, very powerful and would be fresh and not battle weary. Ruth and her Vampire were worn out from fighting the Enforcers and manipulating the Transformed minions they’d sent initially to attack Bella and Jacob.
And just like that, they abandoned Leah and the cavern.
Not without sensory abilities of her own, the child was aware of their leaving, and that the farther they went from her, the safer she was. She squeezed out of her hiding spot and raced over to her mother, using her small hands and diminutive strength to turn Bella over so she was faceup. But that was as far as she could pull her. It was as far as she dared to pull her. Every movement she made caused more blood to pump out of the torn flesh in her mother’s throat.
Leah’s eyes filled with tears. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to help. She had been born to the Enforcers, an indestructible team of strength, power, and intelligence that always knew what to do. And now it was shattered all around her, torn and broken. She ought to have been able to do something. Even at five she already had the sense that she was destined for great things, that she was one day going to be a very powerful Demon.
But right then she was only five, helpless and vulnerable. Right then there was nothing she could do.
Jasmine found the little girl sprawled over her mother’s chest, her tiny hands gripping at Bella’s shirtsleeves, her face buried against Bella’s breast as she keened softly in an awful sound of despair. The female Vampire was not exactly known for her sentimentality and tenderness, but she would have had to be a stone-cold bitch not to be shocked and moved by the sight that greeted her. Over the past few years as head of the Nightwalker Sensor Network, the law enforcement net that had been put in place all over the world to catch lawless Nightwalkers that slipped through the cracks of their individual race’s policing systems, Jasmine had been always two steps short of Nicodemous and Ruth. The chase had gone on long enough for her to recognize their very special brand of aftermath, and she knew that was exactly what she was seeing now.
She moved forward, stepping over the man she knew was beyond help and kneeling by Isabella’s shoulder. She gently reached out to touch the back of Leah’s head. Her brown and black hair, a mirror of her father’s, was caked with dirt and the blood of her parents, but the exceptional tenderness of the female Vampire was everything the frightened child needed. She looked up at Jasmine with wide, violet eyes filled with unshed tears and a traumatization that would no doubt last the remainder of her lifetime.
“Please help my mama,” she begged Jasmine painfully.
“Come, puss. It’s best we let your mama go,” she said as gently as she could, “else she will suffer in the long run.” Unlike Leah, Jasmine was well aware of the symbiotic relationship between the Demon and the Druid. Without Jacob’s energy to revitalize her, Bella would begin to waste away, and before two weeks were up, she would be dead. It was a long, slow, and agonizing death—especially for those who loved the Druid, those who would be forced to sit and watch it happen, knowing there was nothing they could do to help.
“Please. Please!” Leah reached out for Jasmine, grasping the Vampire’s face between her hands and meeting her gaze with a chilling sort of wisdom radiating from her young eyes. “I was mean to her tonight. I don’t want Mama to leave me thinking I’m a bad girl.”
“Puss, you and I both know your mama would never think that of you. She loves you more than anything,” Jasmine reassured her as she pulled her into her lap and hugged her close.
“I know she loves me more than anything, but I don’t think she knows that I love her. I was mean to her.”
“Oh, sweetheart. She knows. Mamas always know.”
“Please. I need to tell her. Please ...”
The little girl pressed her lips to Jasmine’s, right over the spot where her upper left fang was hidden and retracted. Jasmine was well aware that this clever child was manipulating her, pulling out all the stops, doing whatever it took to save her sole surviving parent.
Leah didn’t understand what saving Bella for the moment could cost Jasmine for the rest of her life. Jasmine had never drunk the blood of anyone who wasn’t human or Vampire before. The idea offended her every last sensibility. All her life it had been drilled into her that she shouldn’t ever drink the blood of a Nightwalker. Until recently it had been deeply forbidden. But then Prince Damien had drunk from a Lycanthrope, who later had become his bride, and it was discovered that the reason the cold and loveless Vampires lived lives of such bland emotion was because they were destined to find their mates in the other Nightwalker breeds ... in the blood of other Nightwalkers.
But there was no love to be found here. The thing Jasmine was considering was to drink in order to trigger the autonomic systems attached to her second bite, her finishing bite, which would inject coagulants into her victim’s body, thus stopping Bella’s bleeding. But to drink from Bella would mean to take on an aspect of her power, and Jasmine wasn’t interested in altering herself on a molecular level for all time. She liked herself just the way she was.
But it wasn’t herself she was forced to consider. It was a pair of pleading violet eyes, a child on the brink of becoming an orphan, and it was that child’s mother who would suffer painfully if Jasmine saved her long enough to say good-bye to her daughter.
“I’m sorry,” the female Vampire whispered to the babe. “She’s gone.”
She picked the little girl up and walked out of the cavern that held Leah’s dead and dying parents.
One Week Later
Noah, the Demon King, raged with grief, the temper of his volatile element getting the best of him. He hid himself in the very same caverns that had seen Jacob’s death and, using the power of his flame and Fire, he burned everything in sight until the rock was charred as black as the wounded places in his heart.
Kestra, his Queen, grieved with love. Leah glued herself to Noah’s wife, scrawny legs around her waist and clutching arms around her neck beneath Kestra’s sugar-white braid of hair. While her husband burned in anguish, Kes rocked and comforted the orphaned child. They clung to each other, the parentless child and the barren Queen, each fulfilling places of desperate need in the other.
Leah’s blood uncle, Kane, brother to her father, couldn’t bear to be in the child’s presence. Neither, it seemed, could his mate, Corrine, who was Isabella’s blood sister. They each saw too much of Bella and Jacob in Leah’s features and her coloring, and their avoidance would set a trend far into the future. Leah would feel it most keenly, and she would age knowing very little about them, except to realize just setting eyes on her caused them inconsolable pain.
And they were not the only ones who would behave in such a manner.
She learned not to mention anything about her parents to anyone who didn’t talk about them first. Within days she understood that she had no family anymore. That she was alone.
And through the years to follow, a certain female Vampire would watch as the once close-knit Demons began to fall apart over the deaths of two of their finest and most beloved members, anguish and suffocating guilt stealing away what nothing else could have done. She quickly came to realize there was nothing at all she could do about it.
Ten Years Later
Leah’s dark head jolted up and around in her shock, her violet eyes going wide as she stared at her Siddah Elijah. Elijah looked at his foster daughter with amusement. He was well aware the fifteen-year-old had been tuning out most of her lessons up until that point.
“Yes. Adam. Your father’s eldest brother was Enforcer before your father inherited the mantle from him.”
“But ... Daddy’s only brother is Uncle Kane.”
“Trust me, angel, I was very good friends with Adam. You were perhaps just too young to recall your father ever mentioning him.”
“But Uncle Kane never speaks of him,” she argued.
No doubt, Elijah thought. Kane had not known Adam, having been born after Adam’s loss. Then again, the present Enforcer also avoided his niece whenever he could, so the opportunity for discussions about anything was nonexistent. The look flitting over Leah’s features told him that she was recalling that very same fact.
Kane and Corrine had never recovered from the tragic loss of their siblings. They had become very insular, taking solace only in one another and avoiding anything that could possibly remind them of Jacob or Bella. At first, Kane had even refused to take on the position of Enforcer, this in spite of the fact that he knew he was the last of his line, the last of a very special legacy of Demon power that allowed him to sense when other Demons were on the brink of insanity.
Eventually, Kane had very little choice. Then again, it wasn’t as though any of them had a choice. Life plodded forward, but they were all aware of the pall that had hung over their society this past decade. There were many who believed Jacob and Bella would have destroyed Ruth eventually, or at the very least the plague of rogue Vampires that now threatened to overwhelm the Nightwalker world.
Kane always tried his best and he meant well, but his youth was against him as he struggled to fill his brother’s formidable shoes.
Others, like Elijah, simply believed that the blow of the Enforcers’ deaths had taken the spirit out of the entire Demon community.
“Adam was gone long before Kane was even born,” Elijah pointed out to his charge. “He didn’t even know him.”
“Gone? You mean he died?” she pressed. As a rule, her Siddah was very careful with the words he chose, so the distinction caught the clever girl’s attention.
“Actually, I can only assume so. Adam disappeared without explanation some four centuries ago on a Beltane night. We found no clues to his disappearance; however, since we were at war with the Vampires at the time, it was not unusual for even our best warriors to disappear.”