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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Leah nodded and this time it was she who turned away, hurrying off, perhaps to find a way to do exactly that.
Leah could easily have gone to her female Siddah and asked her to teleport her right into Noah’s living room, but the young Time Demon needed to think . . . or perhaps was dragging her feet. So she was wandering less-traveled caverns, giving herself the time she needed to be alone with everything swirling through her mind.
It was a war between desires and responsibilities.
From the moment the idea had entered her head that perhaps she could redeem herself in the eyes of all those around her who must count her responsible for the deaths of her parents, she had been moving headlong into the possibility. Or so it seemed. She had actually toyed with the concept over and over again through the years, but it seemed every time it entered her mind, her Siddah would come up with some kind of lecture about the responsibility of power. It was almost as though they had read her mind, sensed her intentions, and were warning her off the path she wanted to travel. That might be a bit of paranoia, because although Legna was a strong empath, she wasn’t a telepath, and neither was Elijah. So she had to assume it was Destiny herself dropping very strong hints in her lap, warning her to leave well enough alone; that she would only make bad situations worse if she meddled in the way things had unfolded.
But Leah watched the world around her quietly and carefully and continually came to the same conclusion. Things would be very different if only Jacob and Bella had not died that day while trying to protect her from Ruth and Nicodemous. What if, she continually asked, someone had come to their aid? What if that someone had been strong enough to defeat Ruth and Nico once and for all?
The question had then always been who? Who would be strong enough to do something like that? Noah? Leah couldn’t take that risk. What if he wasn’t? What if Noah was killed along with her parents? Then what would become of them all under the heavy loss of their King?
But now, suddenly, she had her candidate. Someone who, if taken at the moment of his death, would never be missed throughout time. Someone as powerful as her father. Someone who had it in his blood to fight and defeat a lawbreaking Demon. Someone whose death, should he die alongside her parents, simply would not matter in the grand scheme of things.
But just when she was ready to act, all these warning signs were being flung up in her face again. Jasmine, of all people, being one of them. What were the odds that the Vampire would be there, in that moment, overhearing her and Seth arguing? In Lycanthrope territory? They were infinitesimal.
Leah’s eyes began to water with frustrated emotion. She knew exactly what Noah would say to her if she went to him. He would caution her just as Jasmine had. He might even act more strongly to prevent her from doing anything. This was why she had never voiced the idea before. She was wise enough, even at her young age, to understand the far-reaching ramifications that might come with her gifts if she used them without caution and forethought.
“Such a thoughtful child.”
The compliment was said so snidely that Leah immediately jerked her attention to the speaker. She had been so absorbed in her moral dilemma, she hadn’t realized just how far out of the reach of safety she had traveled.
And she had not realized she had walked right into Ruth’s waiting arms.
“Now let us see,” Ruth mused, her china blue eyes fixing on Leah in a way that paralyzed her. When Jasmine had entered Leah’s mind, it had been almost like a seduction, like falling into the warm embrace of a lover. But having Ruth seize hold of her mind was something cold and terrible. Leah felt her body go dead, as if it weren’t any longer a part of herself. And in a sense it wasn’t. Ruth had cut off her ability to send and receive nerve impulses within her body.
Leah felt herself falling, dropping to the stone floor like a sack of potatoes. The deadly beautiful Demon moved over her, putting her hands on her knees as she peered down at Leah. Ruth’s blond hair was swept to the side and twisted into a fat braid that draped off her shoulder, a strangely incongruous blue ribbon woven into it and tying it off in a big bow. She wore an expensive, luscious evening dress that accented her shoulders and dipped low in front. The midnight blue silk was peppered with sequins that flattered the curves of her figure. But the wide neckline of the dress also accented the vicious bruising and bite marks along both sides of the Demon traitor’s neck.
As if the evidence of her Vampire lover’s existence called him forth, Nicodemous drifted out of the shadows and appeared at Ruth’s side. The smell of them together made Leah gag, making her realize that not all of her senses had been taken from her. What she smelled was the rottenness that filled the flesh of any creature who dabbled in black magics. Selfish, offensive magics. The past decade had shown the Nightwalker world that it was not always so. Natural-born Witches who used well-meant magic in selfless and defensive ways remained clean-smelling and pure. But once they began to dabble in darker arts, they became addicted to them like a poisonous drug, and that drug made them stink of their evilness to any other Nightwalker that came near.
Ruth and Nico reeked of their addiction, their eyes shining in a peculiar way that warned you they were probably a little bit insane from all their power mongering, from all the ways they had altered themselves over the years as they grew stronger and stronger.
“Well, listen to that,” Nico mused as he, too, leaned forward to peer at her. “She’s barely old enough for Fostering and yet her mind reeks of that self-important righteously moral propaganda you Demons are so fond of spewing.”
“Oh, but more than that,” Ruth whispered in a breathless way. “She’s thinking about us, Nico, and how she can go about getting rid of us.”
Panic infused every cell in Leah’s body. Suddenly all the implications of being helpless at the hands of the Demon and, more importantly, the Vampire, who could potentially absorb her power, struck Leah. Since a Vampire could only gain one power from drinking the blood of a Nightwalker, and Leah only had one power to speak of, then that meant ... It made her sick to her stomach to think that Ruth and Nico might obtain her ability to move through time. Suddenly the small ramifications of her one somewhat selfish act meant nothing in the face of the damage these two could do if they gained control over Time and began to leap back and forth within it, changing whatever they wanted to, sneaking up on unwitting historical figures who could never be prepared for their coming.
“I do so love it when they panic,” Ruth mused to her partner, reaching out to fluff a curl near his ear. “They forget we can read their minds and start spewing information in their thoughts.”
“Yes, it is rather handy, is it not?” Nicodemous agreed.
Nico reached down and plucked Leah up by her shirtfront, the T-shirt material stretching under her dead weight as he yanked her up closer to his face and the vicious mouthful of fangs he flashed at her.
“So, morsel, you think you have the key to something your betters have never been able to accomplish? You think you have what it takes to destroy us?”
“She may be right,” Ruth supposed. “If she found a way to attack us before we were strong enough ...” The demented Demon straightened her posture and gently stroked her long, graceful fingers down the length of her braid. “Rip out her throat. Drink what you can and kill the little bitch. Then we’ll have the power of Time and there will be no one to stop us.”
“Finally ... finally I will be Prince of the Vampires,” Nico snarled. “Let Damien find a way to fight me from his crib!”
And in a single savage act he flashed an angry mouthful of fangs at the young girl and sank them viciously into her delicate neck.
Leah screamed. She knew that all it would take was one wrenching pull and she’d be flayed open to bleed to death like her mother had. And all it would take was one swallow and all of the Nightwalker worlds could fall into chaos.
Her panic triggered her power, which whipped through her like the blade of a razor, painful and uncontrolled, nothing but pure instinct. Every molecule of her body began to individually flee from her attacker, leaping through the only thing she had the smallest bit of control of.
Leaping through time.
About Four Hundred Years Earlier
Adam’s dark head picked up, sweat flinging off his brow as he swung unruly black curls dripping with the salty liquid out of his eyes. They were his mother’s eyes, much to his father’s consternation. Mother and son both had eyes of the palest green, so clear and so light that it was almost as if they were incandescent. It enhanced the powerful ability both had to seemingly peer straight into someone’s soul. Those on the receiving end of that pale jade stare often confessed the total truth, behaving themselves, or rectifying wrongs, whether they wanted to or not.
It was that very same set of eyes that had forced Adam’s father, Asher, to confess his undying admiration to a saucy, stubborn, raven-haired female in spite of the fact that he had sworn himself to bachelorhood forever. Now he was two grown sons’ deep into the union and had never been happier.
That same female, now three centuries older but no less saucy or beautiful for it, was calling Adam from the turrets of the family castle. He could see the long braid of her hair hanging six feet down over her shoulder, the fanned tail of it fluttering in the breeze like the family crest she stood near as she leaned over the wall to call him.
“Madam,” he addressed her, his deep voice booming up to the ramparts and farther still. “I have asked you not to disturb me when I am at practice.” He swept a hand behind himself to indicate the four other Demons lying in various positions of semiconsciousness on the dusty ground, as well as the tall, lanky figure of his brother Jacob, who was leaning casually against the back of a stone statue of their grandfather that stood at the edge of the practice grounds. Jacob almost looked as though he were commiserating with the old man, who grinned deviously down on the practice field where, like his eldest grandson, he’d had a rather nasty habit of tearing through practice partners with god-awful speed.
“It would seem you are due to give your men a reprieve,” their mother rejoined boldly, taking note of his exhausted opponents with far too much motherly humor in her voice.
Adam hated it when she did that. Treated him like a son. Of course, he also adored her for it. Being his mother, she could always be counted on to be the one person on the planet who, though she supported and praised him constantly, somehow still managed to be entirely unimpressed and unaffected by the man he had become. Even their father would have shown Adam far more respect for his rank and position in the grand scheme of things. Adam supposed, however, that it was a mother’s prerogative to always treat her son the same as she had when he was just a boy, and it was a son’s prerogative to indulge her in her desire to do so.
“I suppose you have a point,” he conceded, turning to flash an enormous grin at his baby brother, if a man 221 years of age could be considered a baby still. Jacob grinned back, running a hand through the brown-black hair that he kept far too loose and wild for Adam’s tastes. “Will you require your youngest son as well?” he asked her.
“As a matter of fact, I should appreciate that.”
“What is the matter, Adam, are you afraid that if I get a few minutes’ extra practice in, I will become better than you?”
“A fear like that would not only be ridiculous, it would be a complete waste of time,” Adam shot back to his cocky sibling. He would have to make Jacob eat a bit of arena dirt later on, just to keep him humble. The upstart was beginning to get as good as he thought he was, and that had the potential to make him unbearable to live with.
The ribbing and boasts continued as the sons moved into their home to seek out their mother and discover what her bidding would be.
Eleanor had come in from the upper walkway, a bit windblown and breathless, but rosy with merriment and her clear delight in her offspring as they entered her salon on the top floor of the north tower. She took a moment to look over her sons, so different in many ways, and yet so clearly cut from the same cloth. Adam had inherited her hair color along with her eyes, but his towering height and almost beastly build was a throwback to his grandfather on his father’s side. His best friend, and also his cousin, was a Demon named Noah, the only Demon in existence who even came close to matching up to Adam’s behemoth proportions. Adam sported shoulders that seemed a mile wide, a chest just as broad, and a waist that narrowed fit and tight with straps of well-worked muscles, but was still thick like the trunk of a sturdy oak tree.
In contrast, his younger brother Jacob was lean and athletic, sleek where Adam was more bullish, flexible where his brother was brutally forceful. Eleanor’s younger son had his father’s hair and build, as well as his dark brown eyes that turned ebony with a rise in temper or other emotive passions.
But even as they differed in looks and build, they rang in perfect tune when it came to morals. Both were obsessed with the nature of the law, crime and its appropriate punishment. Both had a sense of right and wrong that was implacable and unwavering. They were highly moral creatures, something that she demurely credited herself with lending to their makeup. Unfortunately, his conscience gave Jacob the tendency to be very hard on himself should he make some sort of error; and Adam ...
Adam always wanted to save the world at all costs. Or at least the Demon part of the world. He was protective of humans, respectful of those other Nightwalkers that deserved respect. But he clearly did not know his own limitations. Eleanor herself had yet to see what they were, but she was worried that one day he would find out the point at which he fell short—only after he had raced headlong over the edge of the cliff. She dreaded the day he would subsequently plummet to the ground, brought rudely to earth and awakened to the fact that he would never be able to save everyone and do the right thing on time, all of the time.