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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Nicodemous laid waste everywhere he went, and his demented Demon mistress could destroy any mind she touched. It was a recipe for utter devastation and it was eating away at Elijah’s world from every direction.
And so his first child, the product of the incredible love he shared with his Lycanthrope bride, was a point of fear and contention in his marriage when it ought to have been just the opposite.
“Hello, Kitten,” he said softly as she moved eagerly into his embrace. She reached for his face, the fingertips of both hands smoothing over the blond brows that so perfectly matched her hair, rubbing away the creases that had formed between them. It was a common action of late, becoming a habit, really.
“Worrying again?” she asked, although her free access into his thoughts easily told her that he was.
“It’s time, love. You know that it is. Your people need to feel secure in the royal line, and ever since Syreena ...”
“I know,” she sighed. “And I am not so able to hide this anymore.”
Elijah drew her out of the main receiving room, turning the nearest corner with her. After a quick look around, he reached out for her belly and engulfed it in his big hands. She was just past her first flush of showing, warm with her high body temperature and full enough to fill his hands as he rubbed them over her. She smiled, unable to resist, letting herself enjoy the moment for a change. She had never thought she would be the sort to take to motherhood. To be honest, it still frightened her a bit. But being a substitute mother to Leah all these years had changed her feelings on the matter greatly. It had taken a great deal of clever work to avoid pregnancy during her heat cycles in the interim, her behavior very much the opposite of her sister’s. Syreena had barely been wed before she had begun to strive for a child.
The thought of her sister ended all the warmth of her feelings, bringing them crashing down. Elijah felt the change, looked up into her sad eyes, and then reached to bring her close. He hugged her tightly, hushing her softly against her ear when tears pricked at her eyes.
“If only ...” she said brokenly.
“I know. But we can’t focus on our regrets. We can’t wish for something that wasn’t. And where do we change the past, even if we could? If only Syreena had been protected? If only Nico had never drunk from Bella, giving him and Ruth the power to get to Syreena? If only we had killed Ruth long before she had met Nico? If only Ruth had never been born? I hate to say it, but Ruth was integral to the birth of the Mind Demon ability. She was the first female born with that power. She was the first female to become Elder. All those who came after her learned from her experiences. Even Ruth’s madness was necessary. If she had never kidnapped Syreena, Damien would never have fallen in love with her.
“Kitten, we can’t play with the past in our heads. We can’t do that to ourselves. All we have is the here and now. We must deal with the present and try to shape the future as best we can.” He smoothed his hand over her hair, a thumb drifting over her cheek. “We can try our best to be happy.”
“I’m afraid that it might not be possible.”
A short distance away Leah was eavesdropping on their conversation, her thin arms wrapped tightly around her body.
If only ... she thought.
Later that night, Leah was sitting in a private alcove located outside one of the busier caverns of the Lycanthrope court. The hub of the court and castle consisted of a well-populated village aboveground that protected the entrance to the more heavily populated underground castle and its outbuildings, which had been carved directly out of the stone of the earth. Most Lycanthropes lived in the large network of underground caverns beneath the wild mountains and forests of Russia. It was probably one of those caverns that had seen the grisly death of her parents. She had been too young to remember the place, but she had heard hints over the years that had led her to make the assumption.
This little alcove was prettily decorated with a hand-carved stone bench and gorgeous pictures on the walls that the talented Lycanthrope stonecutters had created. She liked the privacy of it for reading or for thinking. She sometimes liked to just let her mind wander into the pictures depicted around her, touching the shapes of the carvings, thinking about nothing really at all.
But the problem with picking out favorite places was that after a while they weren’t all that secret. People learned of them. And to prove it, she heard the shuffle of a step around the corner.
“Seth, I can hear you,” she sighed.
Seth poked his head around the curve in the wall that had so poorly hidden him. He looked sheepish under his too-long café au lait curls and the light dusting of freckles over his nose. He was as darkly tanned as his father, so the little dots were hardly visible, but Leah had spent too much time with him not to notice the characteristic.
Leah scooted over and patted the bench next to her. Seth, all long limbs and angular lines, immediately took a seat, leaning back with his hands folded behind his head and his feet crossed at the ankles.
“I don’t mean to bug you,” he said as an afterthought. “If you want me to go, I will.”
“Nah.” She gave him a blasé shrug. “It doesn’t matter.”
The truth was she had been close to Seth since they were kids. Seth was the son of Gideon the Ancient and Legna, the Demon ambassador to the Lycanthrope court. He was also, supposedly, the second half of a prophecy about two miracle children, Leah being the first. The problem was, while Leah had been showing signs of power over the element of Time ever since she had been two, Seth hadn’t shown so much as an inkling of the nature of his supposed power over the element of Space. In Seth’s mind, this made him somehow ... less.
“Whatchya been doing?” Seth asked her. “Staring at the walls again?”
“Shut up.” She made a fist and punched him in the arm. He was lanky and kind of scrawny in her opinion, so he made a face and rubbed at the spot. But he didn’t complain. He felt bad enough about coming up short in other areas; he wasn’t about to let a girl know she’d hurt him. Even if it was just Leah.
“Did you know I had an uncle?” she asked him.
“Duh. He’s the Enforcer.”
“Not Kane! I know you know about Kane. Why would I ask you that? You’re so stupid sometimes.”
“I am not stupid!”
Seth’s face flushed at the insult and he surged to his feet, his hands balling into fists. Leah saw him shaking as a tide of nasty words and insults rushed through his brain and she waited for him to choose the right one, the most cutting insult he could come up with. He was really good at them. Almost as though he had a stockpile of them that he held in careful reserve just for moments like this. He probably did. The Lycanthrope kids their age knew full well what Seth was supposed to be, and they never missed a chance to taunt him for not living up to the Demon prophecy’s expectations. He was the son of the oldest and most powerful Demon in the entire world and had nothing to show for it.
“Why are you wasting your time thinking about a family that wants nothing to do with you anyway?” Seth wanted to know.
It was a good one, she had to admit. Even knowing it was coming didn’t dull the sting any. She didn’t get mad, though. She just absorbed the pain and tried to blink back the urge to tear up. After all, the truth was the truth. Kane and Corrine wanted no part of her. They couldn’t stand to look at her, never mind sit and have some kind of conversation. So it really was a waste of time to dwell on her family, past or present.
“You’re right,” she said softly. “It probably is a waste of time.”
As usual, the minute he had spoken the vicious words, Seth regretted them. Leah was his best friend. She was always nice to him. They liked so many of the same things. They thought so many of the same ways. And they were both born out of some stupid prophecy that neither of them felt they could live up to. Leah would give anything to be a normal Demon from a normal element, something simple like Water or Body. And Seth would give anything to have been born to normal, run-of-the-mill parents instead of the most powerful and Ancient one and the King’s dynamic sister.
But Seth caught himself in that thought and just as quickly rejected it. He loved his mother. She was the only thing that made living with his father bearable.
“Well ... what’s his name?” Seth asked awkwardly.
“This uncle you had.”
“Oh.” She shrugged. “Adam. He was supposedly this real kick-ass Demon. He was—”
“Enforcer before your father,” Seth finished for her. He nodded and sat back down next to her, but on the edge of the bench only, in case she didn’t welcome him after he’d been so mean.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
“History lessons. You know my dad. He’s always on me about history. It’s easy for him, though. He can remember it all because he was there.”
“Oh yeah.” Then Leah’s whole face brightened and she slid closer to Seth, grabbing hold of his arm eagerly. “Oh yeah! Your dad lived through all of that! I bet he knew Adam, too.”
“Well sure. Until he just disappeared ... hey, I know that look. You’ve got something going on in your brain,” Seth accused her. “Some kind of plot.”
“No plot. Just curiosity. Elijah tends to exaggerate about warrior prowess and all of that when it comes to his friends who are ... you know, dead. But your dad doesn’t ever exaggerate about anything.”
“No.” Seth gave a beleaguered sigh. He screwed himself up into a proper imitation of his father. “‘It makes no logical sense to decorate a story with colorful and emotional flotsam.’”
Leah giggled. “You do that very well.”
“Yeah well, I have the benefit of an up-close study.”
“Do you think he would talk to me about it?”
“It’s hard to say.” Seth thought about it a minute, the generous lips he’d inherited from his mother quirking into half a frown. “We’d have to make him think it was his idea or something.”
“Or make it seem like a history lesson.”
“Why do you want to know about some dead uncle anyway?” Seth nudged his shoulder into hers. “Don’t you hear enough about the dead people you missed out on?”
She gave him a grim nod. “True. But ... I have my reasons. Let’s leave it at that.”
“There were yellow flowers in the children’s hair last week,” Syreena said softly. Her expression turned sad and wistful. “But now they’ve all died and faded. And I can’t find the children.” Then she smiled brightly at Jasmine, the multicolored streaks in her charcoal eyes actually growing light. “But we shall find fresh flowers in the gardens. I think bluebells will look lovely. Have you seen the children?”
Jasmine had been on her way out of the citadel when she was waylaid by the Lycanthrope Princess, who was married to Damien, the Vampire Prince, and Jasmine’s closest friend. Now she sighed and tried not to roll her eyes. Syreena didn’t respond well to negative emotions and hostility, so it was best to talk softly and play along.
“Um ... I think they’re in the courtyard.”
Yeah. Right. Just like there were no flowers in the gardens at this time of year, yellow or blue.
“Oh, but I looked there earlier,” Syreena said as she absently studied her fingertips.
“You must have just missed them,” Jasmine said, trying to hold on to her patience.
“Do you think so?” Syreena asked eagerly. “I will look again.” She leaned forward and kissed Jasmine on her cheek. “I am so glad we are friends now.”
Syreena drifted off toward the courtyard, the train of her dress trailing behind her, the silken fabric falling crookedly off one of her bony shoulders and showing just how thin she had grown over the past two years. The truth was she often forgot to eat or bathe. Not unless Damien reminded her and held her hand through the entire meal or stepped into the bath with her to keep her focused.
No. Syreena spent most of her time looking for the children.
Children that did not exist.
They had never existed. Would never exist. And therein lay the trouble. When Ruth and Nico had attacked Syreena two years ago, Ruth had plunged into Syreena’s psyche and perverted her very worst fears and weaknesses into ...
. . . into this.
Jasmine let her hand fall away from the door handle and looked around the room. She could feel him, knew he was close. He was always close by when Syreena was near.
Damien broke away from the shadows down at the opposite end of the great room. He moved with his usual dark grace as he crossed the room, but all of the strength and power he had once had was now faded. He neglected himself too often, choosing instead to attend to Syreena’s needs over his own. He would often go days without hunting, and he didn’t dare feed from Jasmine or anyone else to sustain himself, because then Syreena’s gentle madness would turn into something else, something vicious and violent.
Jasmine sighed as he spared her only the briefest of looks.
Unsatisfied, she followed him as he tracked his bride’s tragic wanderings through his fortress.
“Damien,” she called to him as gently as she could. She tried to imbue the address with everything she was feeling, with all the support she could muster. She tried to remind him that she was there for him. She would always be there for him.
Usually he would ignore her or merely nod and continue on his way, but this was one of the rare instances when he stopped and turned back to her.
He looked so sad and tired. His handsome face should have shown nothing of his age, Vampires being utterly ageless, but these past years had altered his looks. He looked older. Weary. Lost. And Jasmine knew she wasn’t the only one noticing it. When a Prince grew weak, he could not defend his holdings or his monarchy. There were vipers, young, powerful, strong vipers, waiting in the darkness for the chance to sever Damien’s head from his body and thereby lay claim to the Vampire monarchy.