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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Oh! How terrible!” Leah’s violet eyes filled with empathetic tears. She often did this. Leah hungered for stories of her parents and felt a constant need to apply emotions to them. Elijah supposed it helped her to feel closer to them. The tragedy was that Kane and Corrine, the two people on earth who could best fill her hunger for information about Jacob and Bella, were as remote a resource to her as Pluto was to Earth, and it had very little to do with the fact that Leah was being raised in a distant Russian province in the court of the Lycanthrope Queen, Elijah’s mate, Siena. Being a Mind Demon, Kane was capable of teleporting at will. He could have brought himself and his mate to Russia whenever he wanted to.
“You know, Noah was Adam’s best friend, as I recall. Perhaps you ought to ask him about your other uncle,” Elijah suggested.
“Really? I can go to England?”
“Of course.” He chuckled. “Kestra and Noah would be thrilled to see you.”
“Yeah, I guess,” the young girl sighed. “But it stresses Kes out when she sees me. It stresses all of you out.”
Leah knew that was exactly the truth of the matter. After her parents had died, there had been something of a terrible war over her custody. Demon tradition stated that upon the death of both parents, a Demon child’s Siddah would take immediate custody of the child, instead of waiting until the child’s power began to show itself in the child’s late teens. But Noah and Kestra had fought with Elijah and Legna for the right to raise her themselves until the proper time for her Fostering to begin. They wanted to raise her in the Demon court and in the hub of Demon life. Leah’s Siddah, Elijah and Magdelegna, both lived with their mates in the Lycanthrope court. A foreign court with foreign traditions.
Of course Kestra’s motivations had been strongly oriented to her husband’s desires. She was unable to have children of her own and knew how deeply Noah felt for Leah. She had seen it as a perfect opportunity to provide him with the family he deserved. And Leah didn’t doubt that the barren Queen had been strongly in favor of the idea for other reasons as well. The fight had, she came to understand, caused some rifts between Elijah and his King ... and even between Magdelegna and her brother. Legna and Noah had once been very loving and very close, but now the relationship was strained.
All because of Leah.
Eventually it had come down to the Great Council’s vote on the matter. The Council had strongly sided with Leah’s Siddah and Demon tradition, and so she had been raised by Elijah and Legna and Legna’s Demon mate Gideon. Siena, the Lycanthrope Queen, and Siena’s entourage of Lycanthropes had had their influence on Leah, too.
Leah didn’t know if any of them were good or bad influences, or if Noah and Kestra might have been better ones, but frankly she was glad she had been raised outside of the Demon world. There was always so much weight in the eyes of the Demons who saw her mother and father in her looks or her bearing or perhaps even her smallest habits. That weight invariably led to sadness and an overwhelming guilt. Leah’s guilt. She felt bad for making them sorrowful, and the older she was, the worse it seemed to get. Apparently her face and eyes made her a dead ringer for her mother, while her build and hair reminded everyone of her father.
“I think I’ll just stay here,” she said as she almost invariably did whenever she thought of visiting the Demon court. Actually, her thoughts were far more engaged with the fascinating concept of learning about an uncle she had never heard of before. “So what can you tell me about Adam?”
“Adam? Sweet Destiny.” Elijah paused to thrust the blade he was forging deep into the hot coals before him. “Why are you so fascinated with him?” he asked his fosterling. He took a moment to look over her willowy frame, smiling as he saw how much she had grown these past few months. She also looked healthy and, considering her history, reasonably happy. But there would always be an element of sadness in this child, Elijah thought. The tragedy of her parents’ death was worn deep in her young spirit, and anyone who sat and talked to her for any length of time could see it sitting on her soul.
“Well, you were good friends, yes?”
Elijah didn’t see what possible use there was in bringing up stories of other great men who were also long gone, but she was animated and curious and it was infectious to see her that way.
“Honestly?” the big blond Demon said with a crooked grin. “Your father was Adam’s best friend even above Noah. When they weren’t bickering, that is. Your dad loved to get under Adam’s skin and would poke and prod until he got his ass kicked for it.”
Leah laughed, and Elijah relished the sound. It was a rare commodity in her. It was rare in just about everyone these days.
“Then again,” he continued, “those sparring matches and their playful rivalry is probably how your father learned all the tricks of the Enforcer’s trade. From diplomacy to cunning to battle, Adam was the ultimate instructor, and your father a clever sort of student. Did you know that Adam was the one who devised most of the current punishments we use to deter Demons from straying during the Hallowed moons? There have been others throughout the centuries, but Adam’s were by far the most wickedly effective and have stuck the longest.”
“Really?” she asked breathlessly, her expression rapt as she leaned in.
“Yeah. Apparently, Adam thought the original forms of castigation and humiliation were a bit too warm and fuzzy for his tastes. What he devised has proved far more diabolical. Adam was ...” Elijah grinned at her, his green eyes alight with distant memory. “Adam was the definition of a hard-ass. Believe me when I tell you it paid off. Whatever you hear people say about your father being militant, it was nothing compared to Adam. He was the all-time deadliest fighter on the block when he wanted to be. Not to disparage your father, but if Adam were still around, Ruth would have been dealt with long before she could ever have got this far.”
Leah frowned as he turned to shift the blade under the coals. “You mean he was better than Daddy?” she asked as she licked the sweat from her upper lip. The forge was hot and close, but she wouldn’t have budged for anything.
“Well ... let’s say he was different. Adam wasn’t known for being touchy-feely. Your father was the opposite in many ways.” Elijah hesitated. “If I took Adam at the time he died and set him up against your dad at the time he died, it’d be a real hard call. But you see, your mother made Jacob more powerful than Adam could ever be alone. However, she also ... well ...” Elijah stopped with a wince, realizing he had forgotten whom he was talking to.
Leah wasn’t left behind.
“You mean to say Mama was Daddy’s worst weakness as well, don’t you? It’s okay, Elijah. I was there. I know my father wouldn’t be dead if he hadn’t turned his back on his enemies.”
“Actually, no one knows that,” he corrected her sharply. “Do you blame your mother for what happened? Or your father?”
“I blame everybody!” Leah bit out sharply. “I blame everyone who ever let Ruth slip through their fingers! I blame the Vampires! I blame you and Noah and even Adam for not being there when my parents needed them the most!” Leah’s small hands balled into fists as she railed. She tried to hold back, to rein in her temper, especially when she saw the guilt and pain in Elijah’s eyes. “I just ... I wish it had been different. I bet if my father and my uncle Adam had been there together that day, Ruth would be dead and that Vampire bastard would be burned to ashes instead of my father and mother!”
Elijah looked at her carefully for a minute or two, letting her catch her breath and calm her emotions. Then he said gently, “I think it’s a waste of time to think of such things, Leah. If you get caught up in fantasies about ‘would have beens,’ you forget to appreciate what you actually have in the here and now. Tragedies happen, Leah, but quite often unexpected good comes from them.”
“Tell me what good has come from my parents’ murders!” she lashed out, standing up and bearing the fierce heat of the forge in order to go toe-to-toe with her Siddah. “You tell me, Elijah! Teach me how to see their deaths in a proper light! Wax poetic on all the happiness among us that was born because Jacob and Isabella are dead!”
Elijah stood in stony silence as Leah reached to dash tears from her eyes. He deserved her anger, he thought sadly. They all did, because they all had failed her. It broke his heart to see her in the firelight of the forge, her mother’s violet eyes and her father’s brown-black hair leaping out at him from a face made half of Isabella’s fey features and half of Jacob’s sterner aristocracy. She even grew tall and lean like her sire, yet was developing the curvaceous femininity of her dam. There was no doubt, the instant you laid eyes on her, whose daughter she was.
“I’m sorry, Leah,” he said after a moment of weeding his own pain out of his voice. “It was a poor platitude to use. I only meant—”
Leah waved off his explanation with a hasty sniffle. “No,” she said softly, “I understand your point. I truly do.” She slowly turned her back on him and stepped back toward the stool she had been sitting on. Unable to trust herself, Leah kept turned away and hid her features behind the fall of her hair. “Please. Tell me more about Adam.”
Elijah was quiet and still for a beat, but then with a nod to himself he continued to do so.
When Leah had finished her lessons, Elijah sent her on her way and turned the forge over to the Minotaur that had been assisting him. He then made his way up from the deep caverns to the underground castle that was the seat of his wife’s government. There she was, sitting in state, hearing grievances and attending to the minutiae of her political life. Siena looked utterly bored, her chin resting in her palm, her hair absently curling itself into twists. Each strand was alive with its own blood supply and nerves and would reflexively curl around her in protection or if she was cold. When she was changing form, it would spread over her entire body and become the fur of the cougar she could eventually become. But lately the springy, lush golden coils had taken to clinging to her like a constantly protective cloak.
She looked up and directly at him the instant he moved into the room. Imprinted as they were, she was always aware of him, always a part of his thoughts just as he was a part of hers. Their mating was the first one of its kind. In this millennium, in any event. In the past decade, scholars had uncovered certain strange truths and histories about the Nightwalker species that showed history had ways of repeating itself.
Hopefully they would do things better this time around.
Although it wasn’t looking very promising. The rogue Vampires and human necromancers were growing in power, and Ruth and Nico continued to wreak havoc.
Elijah had to have hope that the goodness and love of Imprintings like his and Siena’s would be enough to counterbalance all of that. But without powerful Demons like Jacob and remarkable Druids like Bella to help defend the Nightwalkers, it was looking very bleak. Once cohesive in thought and action, the central body of government in the Demon courts had fallen apart, agreements a thing of the past, bickering and whining taking up so much of the Great Council’s time that Noah had refused to call them to table for nearly three years now. And although he was no longer Noah’s Warrior Captain, Elijah was still a Great Council member and still wanted to fulfill his role as such. He wanted to help guide Noah in this volatile time. He wanted to help the man who had formerly called him friend.
But Noah did not feel the same. For some reason, he couldn’t seem to move forward without his Enforcers. And Elijah had to admit it was hard. Sometimes too hard. But it must be done. If for no other reason than to show a young girl that it could be done.
Siena immediately began to shoo her people away from her, standing up from her throne and displaying her lush, beautiful body in its light, nearly sheer gown. The empire waist brought the material up snugly to her breasts, accentuating their fullness. The silky fabric fell away from the rest of her for the most part. But it liked her hips well, clinging to them and her backside almost lasciviously. It wasn’t until she began to move forward that it gave hints of her rounded belly in front.
Siena ought to have been thrilled about her pregnancy, but she wasn’t. Not entirely, anyway. What should have been full of joy was marred. And now that she was more obviously beginning to show, it was past time for them to announce the impending birth of the Lycanthrope heir. Most probably those closest to her had managed to figure it out already. Her attendants and aides had very probably deduced as much.
But Siena was trying to protect her child and, more likely, the feelings of her sister. Whatever was left of them. Elijah’s belief was that it probably wouldn’t matter. If the news was going to make any impact, it would be worse if Siena did not confront Syreena herself, instead allowing rumor to reach her sister first. It was quite possible the barren sister would be devastated by the news of the fertile sister’s triumph, but Elijah really didn’t think it would hurt Syreena quite the way his wife feared.
If Anya had still been alive, perhaps she could have helped advise Siena better than he had been doing. After all, the half-breed General had known both of the sisters best. But Nicodemous had ambushed Anya in the woods last spring, ripping her to shreds for the fun of it, leaving her for Siena to find. Ruth still blamed Elijah for her daughter’s death and still took pleasure in tormenting him in whatever way she could, and Ruth knew the deepest way to hurt him was to somehow attack the woman he loved. Anya had been Siena’s very best friend, and losing her had been a devastating blow to his wife’s confidence and sense of security.
The attack only added to her fear about announcing her coming child. She felt that it would open her up as a target to Ruth’s vindictiveness. Siena could remain protected in the bowels of their world; her people and her husband would never let harm come to her there. However, she was part wild animal. To keep her cooped up and under constant observation for all of her pregnancy would no doubt drive her crazy. Elijah had to admit that he was no longer capable of protecting her if Nico and Ruth came at them while they were somewhere in the open alone together. Both had grown so tremendously in power that no one was safe from them. And since Nico had fed from Bella, acquiring the little Druid’s remarkable power ... and Ruth had boldly attacked Syreena ...