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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Jasmine was the only one standing in their way. Her strength and her loyalty were protecting Damien’s life and his rule.
“Damien ...” she said again as she reached to put her arms around him. He resisted her hug, casting a worried glance after Syreena, but in the end he was starving for the strength and support of his best friend and adviser. In the end he let her hold him, let her hug him tight and close. He took a deep, cleansing breath, drawing in Jasmine’s personal aura, her vigor. Jasmine bit her tongue so she didn’t give in to the urge to spew words he would refuse to hear in any event. “Have you hunted recently?” she asked instead.
“Not very recently,” he admitted to her. “But I cannot leave her alone. If she wandered into the wrong place unprotected ...”
Mad or not, Syreena was still an exotic genetic anomaly. She was a one-of-a-kind Lycanthrope, a changeling who could take on two animal forms instead of just one because a childhood illness had split her abilities in two directions. But what had made her special had also left her barren. At first her barrenness had been attributed to the fact that Vampires and Lycans were not compatible, but as other Vampires began to take Lycanthrope mates and proceeded to have buckets of children together, it became all too clear that the fault was with Syreena’s very specifically altered biology. This was Syreena’s opinion anyway. An opinion Jasmine had shared. But after Ruth’s perversion of her deepest held fears, Syreena began wandering the halls of the citadel like some kind of screwed-up Ophelia, singing to herself and chasing hallucinations in circles. Jas had let go of her enmity toward Damien’s wife, feeling too sorry for her in the long run to keep hating her scrawny little guts.
Damien was right. There were lawless Vampires everywhere who coveted Syreena’s powerful Lycanthrope blood, and she was now helpless to protect herself. Syreena had once been a magnificent fighter. Jasmine had to confess to that. But now she was an easy meal for any Vampire who bumped into her.
“Damien, you can’t do this for the rest of your life,” Jasmine said softly, knowing the grim reality of her words would anger him.
“What would you have me do?” he said, but this time there was no anger, and there was no fire in the question. It was as though he was honestly asking for her help. Jasmine’s solution had always been to kill the silly bitch and be done with it. But the truth was, for all of Damien’s present unhappiness, to lose Syreena would be the end of him. He fancied himself hopelessly heartbound to the Lycanthrope, connected to her in some mystical, spiritual way. Damien had already proven to her that if Syreena died, he would quickly follow.
Jasmine cared too deeply for him to lose him.
And Jasmine needed her anchors, like her friendship with Damien and her appointment as leader of the Nightwalker Sensor Network. It was too easy for her to lose touch with the world around her. Too easy to grow bored and melancholy. It had been that way for as long as she could remember. Perhaps all of her life ... but more so since ...
Jasmine shook the thought off. It did no good to wallow in what might have been, what once had been ... what no longer was. Nor was she going to allow herself to get so depressed that she could no longer bear living aboveground. Damien needed her. Desperately. If she went to ground, some bastard Vampire would take advantage of Damien’s present preoccupation, see it for the weakness that it was, and behead the Prince, taking his throne from him in one sweep of violence. Then who knew what would happen to the era of peace the Nightwalkers were trying so hard to enjoy.
She laughed at herself. Her appointment to the Nightwalker Sensor Network was supposed to have been a temporary one. She was supposed to get it on its feet and then turn over the reins to someone else, preferably Stephan, the former leader of the Vanguard, the Vampires’ version of an army. But Stephan had been killed, and it turned out there was no one else to take over. Not anyone that all the leaders of the Nightwalker clans were comfortable with, at any rate.
“You need to hunt. You need to keep strong,” she counseled her Prince. “You cannot protect her in this weakened state.”
“What is this?”
The shrill demand made Jasmine and Damien jump apart, with a guilt there was no reason to feel. They had done nothing wrong.
But the madness in Syreena’s eyes blazed and she was pointing an accusatory finger at Jasmine and her husband. “I see! I see it now! You don’t love me! You are going to throw me aside because I cannot give you the children you desire!”
“Syreena, that is not true,” Damien said soothingly as he tried to gather his rigid, hysterical wife into his embrace, turning his back on Jasmine and the brief moment of opportunity where Jasmine might have made him see sense.
“You’ve always loved her more than me,” Syreena accused him with heavy sadness washing over her and tears filling her eyes. “She’s always been better for you than I have. You ought to have married Jasmine. Everyone says it. Everyone thinks it!”
“No one says that,” he denied softly, although it was very much a supposition in Vampire circles. “And even if they did, it would not matter to me. It never has. You are everything to me. You are my only love. I need nothing else so long as I have you. I wish you would believe that.”
But Jasmine knew Syreena didn’t believe him. If she had, then maybe Ruth would not have been able to weaken her mind, tormenting her over children she simply could not create.
Although if Jasmine was going to be fair, Syreena and Damien had once been very happy, strong and content in spite of the Princess’s infertility. They had seemed to love each other powerfully enough to overcome this obstacle and learn to be happy with just each other.
Jasmine walked away from the couple. It was just too painful to watch them now. Needing to escape, for just a little while, she flew away from the Romanian fortress and traveled the miles to the Russian provinces of the Lycanthropes. She was drawn to these caverns again and again for one reason. She asked herself for the thousandth time why she was there, why she was so obsessed with checking in on the little Demon orphan she’d rescued that day long ago in similar caverns.
She had no more answers now than she ever had.
Jasmine went in search of Leah.
“Mama, have you seen Father?”
Legna looked up at her son and tried to hide her surprise. It wasn’t like her son to seek out his father voluntarily, and it certainly wasn’t time for lessons.
“He is in the south wing. Just beyond the baths. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, I had a question for him.” Seth shrugged it off, but Legna was a Mind Demon, and that made her a powerful empath. She could sense her son’s emotions very easily. She was grateful for that because it was the only way she would ever know what was going on in his head most of the time. Ever since he had reached puberty, he had become like a stranger to her—and a hostile stranger to his father.
She had to give Gideon credit for his patience with the boy. Gideon was a very direct creature and didn’t see much value in indulging in wasteful emotions. Not that he wasn’t a devoted and loving father. He was, and he tried to show it as best he could. As Gideon’s Imprinted mate she was very well aware of how deeply loving and passionate a man Gideon truly was. And, with her, he was quite demonstrative.
But since Seth had reached ten years of age, they had lost touch with each other. Seth had started to reject his father’s attentions and affections ... now the only way they connected was in their daily lessons. It baffled Gideon no end. He was Ancient and wise, had lived so many ages and experienced so many things, but he had never been a father before and found himself at a loss. He wanted to be direct, address the problem head-on, but luckily Legna had been able to convince him that wouldn’t be a very good idea. Seth was very sensitive, even a little brooding. He tended to come around to things in his own way and in his own time. It was best to let him do so without forcing him or challenging him before he was ready.
“I am certain he would love to answer your questions,” she said, turning from her baking and dusting off her hands.
“Yeah. I know. He’d never miss a chance at a lecture,” Seth said, coming just shy of sounding snide.
“Seth, your father loves to teach you. He wants to prepare you for the world and for the future. He does it to protect you. There are so many dangers out there.”
“He should just leave me to my own devices. Seems to me he’d be happier if I got bounced off the earth,” Seth said with a shrug.
“Seth! Why would you think such a thing?”
Seth drew back at her powerful response, looking a little trapped for a moment, almost as if he hadn’t meant to speak his feelings aloud.
“Never mind,” he said hastily, pulling back as his mother reached for him. “I was just talking trash.”
“First,” she said as she grabbed hold of his arm, “lying to your mother is unacceptable. Second, lying to an empath is futile. Surely you have learned that as my son.”
She took the sting out of the rebuke by drawing a line of flour down the side of his cheek.
“Mama!” he protested, swiping at his face. But he stopped trying to escape her. With his head hung, he shrugged one of his narrow shoulders. “It’s just ... I know I am nothing but a big disappointment to both of you. To everyone. I’m a powerless nothing when I ought to have been something special. He hates that I’m not all magnificent and special like he is.”
“Sweet Destiny, Seth, nothing could be further from the truth! What is it that you think we are expecting from you? You are only fourteen years old! You have a good four to six years yet before we expect to be on the lookout for your power!”
“That’s bull. You all look at Leah and wonder why I’m not as strong and special as she is.” The boy’s eyes teared up as he withdrew physically from her, wrapping his arms protectively around himself. “She did massive things when she was just two years old. Noah was really young when his power first showed. Jacob was what? Nine? Eight? All of the most powerful Demons on the planet had so much power in them it couldn’t wait to be born. And then there’s me. A big, fat ... nothing.”
“The biggest mistake you can ever make is to compare yourself to others.”
Seth started at the sound of his father’s voice behind him. Shame rushed over him. How could he have forgotten? Speaking to his mother was like speaking to his father at the same time, their connection was so strong, their thoughts so intermingled. But he had seen his mother distance herself from his father psychically before. Stupid of him to think she would have done so now to give him a private moment with her. He turned quickly to face the astral projection of his father, his whole body bristling defensively as he tried to erect some kind of mental protection.
“Whatever,” Seth said with a shrug. His eyes were cast downward, studying the rug on the floor.
“Seth,” his father said, the tone of his voice far gentler than he was used to hearing from his sire. It was enough to encourage him to lift his eyes. “I have great faith that you will be an extraordinary Demon one day, I do not deny that. But if you were healthy and happy, that would be more than enough for me. Your happiness is everything to me.”
Seth had never heard his father speak to him like that before. He looked at him with doubt, wondering if he was using some kind of reverse psychology on him.
“Or,” his mother interrupted his thoughts gently, “maybe he loves you just the way you are.”
Seth had so convinced himself otherwise that he really found the thought hard to believe. Legna could sense that, and she could sense her husband’s dismay as well. It was an idea that would have to be addressed slowly and over a long period of time. But now that they were aware of what was at the root of their son’s troubles, they could perhaps go about rectifying the problem.
“Gideon, your son had a question for you,” she said, smoothly changing the topic of conversation. Seth was very relieved at the segue. He really hoped Leah appreciated his sticking his neck out for her. Manipulating either of his parents was no easy trick.
He shifted his shoulders and tried to appear casual.
“Actually, it was something Leah was asking about. Let me go get her and we’ll come find you. It’s kind of a history thing.”
“History is crucial to understanding the present and forming a better future. I am glad you are taking an interest,” Gideon said. Then he nodded permission to his son, sending the adolescent hurrying to find his playmate.
“Why would you ask about Enforcers aligned before your father?” Gideon asked some time later. It wasn’t as though he was especially curious; he was simply gathering information.
“Uh ... well, odds are I might become Enforcer one day,” Leah said quickly. “Shouldn’t I be well versed on the lineage and the methods they were known for using?” She shot Seth a look and he gave her a shielded thumbs-up.
“This is true,” Gideon said. “But you are young, and time has a way of unfolding in ways we least expect. It could be that Kane and Corrine will have children and one of them will be heir to Kane’s present position.”
“It isn’t very logical to live my life on groundless supposition. I have to assume the truth of the moment is the truth of the future.”
Gideon turned to look at her, one of his silvery brows lifting in surprise. Gideon’s silver hair and eyes were often unnerving to Leah, but in that moment she thought he was looking at her with a sense of pride. Suddenly it felt like something very special to her. She glanced at Seth again and knew by the look on his face that he felt it, too. The jealousy in his eyes said it all. He wanted more than anything for his father to look at him in that way.