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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
As a mother, it was Eleanor’s job to worry about her sons’ sensitivities and vulnerabilities. It was also her job never to insult their egos by letting them know she still fretted over them in such ways. Asher was always warning her that their boys were far more intuitive than she gave them credit for, and though they allowed her these motherly eccentricities, she’d best not test them too far.
But Eleanor already knew that. She had no intention of ever making her children regret her behavior toward them. They had worked too hard to earn their manhood to be undermined by her.
Of course, that did not mean she would not meddle at all. She was looking forward to grandchildren one day, and if she knew Demon males, they were not likely to go willingly or seek mates eagerly. Well, Demon females could be just as wily as their counterparts, and more than made up for the males’ recalcitrance with their own ambitions. She had faith that one day each of her sons would meet his match in a woman, and she made no secret about it.
“Mother,” Jacob greeted her, grabbing her extended hands and pulling her close to kiss her peaches-and-cream cheek. Because they’d stopped aging somewhere in their twenties, Eleanor and Jacob could be mistaken for brother and sister, but all one had to do was witness their exchange of fond gazes to see the bond of parental kinship that was there.
“Madam,” Adam greeted her more gruffly, as if he were too old and too important to call her “Mother” any longer. However, he drew her into an incredible bear hug that broadcast his undying affection for her. “Now suppose you tell us,” he continued after he finally set her back down onto her slender feet with great care, “why you felt it necessary to drag us from training in the middle of the night.”
“I wish to discuss the festival.”
Her sons glanced at each other, exchanging pained but patient expressions.
“Mother, we have had the arrangements in place for months. Beltane is tomorrow, and the festival will be flawless as usual. Why are you fretting?”
“Because I am hostess to your cousin’s royal event this year, and I would see it done perfectly or not at all. Now, did you invite the Gypsies onto our lands?”
“Of course, Mother,” Adam sighed, “It is tradition, after all. And we know you feel it is a good omen.”
“Very well,” Eleanor conceded. “Have you selected your escorts, then?”
This received the expected sounds of protest from both of them.
“Boys,” she said, her tone stern but not too scolding, “you are my sons, and therefore will be expected to bring a proper woman to the table, not just run off and tumble some girl behind a bush later on and consider yourselves as having been social.” She ignored their chuckles and mirth-filled glances at one another. “Some other families may not care about decorum, but I do. Please see that you choose decent Demon girls.”
“No decent Demon girls will have us,” Jacob joked, reaching to tug on her braid in a rascally manner. “I hear that I am far too brooding.”
“And I am Enforcer,” Adam said, that in and of itself an explanation. “I think my time is better spent enforcing the unruly on Beltane rather than finding some chit brave enough to face her fear of the Enforcer so she may share my plate.”
“I swear, you boys would drive Destiny Herself to tears,” Eleanor huffed in exasperation. “Adam, I am well aware you will very likely be called away to work, but the rest of the time I expect you to remain here and be sociable. Jacob, I will take no such excuses from you. Choose or I will choose for you, and I do not think you will like my choice half as well as you would enjoy your own.”
“Just so long as she comes clothed and does not belch at table?”
“You try too hard, Mother. You should know by now that neither of us will ever be likely to marry. Adam is far too ugly, and I am far too smart.”
Adam reached out and cuffed his brother for his insult, nearly knocking him onto the floor in the process. Eleanor rolled her eyes up toward the ceiling, seeking not only strength, but also possibly reassessing her thoughts on their maturity.
“If we promise to come properly accompanied, will you relax about the festival and allow us to return to work?” Adam asked her.
“Of course,” she said with a show of satisfaction and contentment. She knew her sons would keep their word.
“Then we give you our promise to do so.”
Adam used only a thought to change from flesh and bone into the form of a mist that allowed him to ride the clouds and wind currents. He rose above the home he had grown up in and let the current of the natural wind carry him over the vast Hungarian forest below. As a Water Demon he could travel as mist or fog or even waves upon the waters, but the superfine mist of a cloud upon the breeze was by far his preferred choice and by far the quickest.
His path of travel ran quite close to the Romanian border, also known as Vampire territory, but the Enforcer was unconcerned in spite of the fact that the two Nightwalker factions—Vampire and Demon—were embroiled in a war. Certainly each side fought with gusto, the Demons believing the Vampires to be unruly and in need of controlling, and the Vampires not liking that idea at all. Adam resented anyone who wasted their time and energy on nothing better than pursuits of pleasure. The Nightwalkers’ long lives were precious gifts. They should be used with far better care than the minions of Prince Damien practiced. That, compounded with their delight in meddling in human affairs, made them dangerous. Their behavior put all Nightwalkers at risk. Perhaps King Noah thought that one day Damien would see reason and suddenly start to give a damn about what his subjects did, but Adam did not subscribe to the belief that there was any such thing as a decent Vampire.
It was an attitude shared by his younger brother. Jacob had become quite an efficient Vampire hunter. Quite a notorious one at that, and Jacob ate up his glory just as he would sweet cakes and wine. He thrilled in the war with Prince Damien’s bloodthirsty little sycophants. The Vampires had proven that they hungered for bloodshed to relieve their boredom. After all, it was taboo and deadly for Vampires to drink the blood of other Nightwalkers, so they certainly weren’t doing it for nutritional purposes. No. The little bastards were simply out to entertain themselves with a few Demon deaths. Unfortunately for them, when they took on his baby brother, all they got was a world of hurt.
Unfortunately for Adam, success was giving Jacob an ego that was becoming unbearable of late.
Another good fighter and a friend of his was the warrior Elijah. He had to say that were it not for the infamy and skills of Adam’s brother, Elijah might have made a future Warrior Captain, the leader of all of the Demon King’s armed forces. But should the present Captain ever retire, it was most likely Jacob who would fill his position.
At the moment Elijah was a highly ranked warrior who lived on the borders of the Vampire and Demon territories. He said it was to discourage Vampire raids on innocent Demons, but it was more likely so he could wake up every night and be immediately in the thick of battle. There was something of a friendly pissing contest going on between the warrior and Jacob. But it was a little like an apple competing with a pine cone. Elijah was a part of sanctioned battles orchestrated by the Captain and the King. Jacob was a bounty hunter, tracking down specific war criminals.
The thought came to Adam’s mind because he was very close to the warrior’s holdings just then. In fact, he was almost upon them when a movement below him caught his attention. The sleek-moving shape was too fast and too nimble to be just any kind of forest creature. Curious, he quickly descended into the forest below. As always, the first thing to fill his awareness was all sources of water. Where they were located, which directions they were traveling, the volume of each body of water both big and small. Nothing was too insignificant, no information deemed useless. His senses ran high with the presence of a heavy-running stream nearby, its source coming from up in the high, snow-laden mountains. It ran swift and cold only a short distance away. As he neared it with the March moonlight at his back, he changed back into flesh until he could see his breath clouding on the still and chill air. Then he heard and saw what had drawn him there in the first place.
Crouching down low to the forest floor, moving as silently as a breath, Adam peered through the nearby brush to see what manner of creature was running these woods in the darkest hours of the night. And because the moon was near full, its pearlescent light blanketing every inch of the water nearby, Adam could see with perfect clarity.
It was a woman. She was completely nude as she waded through the freezing temperature of the night and the water. She was pale as alabaster, the moonlight no doubt playing tricks on his eyes, because he had never seen such white perfection before. She was almost aglow as she stood there splashing water up and over her long, luminescent legs, and he could see almost every inch of her was covered in gooseflesh. Most obvious was the hard thrust of dark mauve nipples, as they stood out at the tips of rather generous breasts. Her hair was black as pitch, at least when wet, and a natural curl seemed to ease its way through it. She had the overall figure of a painstakingly crafted statue, although she was a bit too thin at the waist and hips for his taste. But that didn’t keep Adam’s lips from curling in a smile of appreciation.
She had to be out of her mind, bathing in such frigid conditions, alone in what amounted to a wilderness. The nearest human road was miles away from this place, not to mention any sign of a town or village. He wondered how she had even managed to get there, watching with amazement as she moved to a small fall of water nearby and let it crash into her hair and over her body until her smooth skin sparkled as though she’d been rubbed with diamonds. For that brief moment, Adam had a powerful compulsion to fling himself into his element; to become Water so he, too, could rush down those stones and onto the perfect, porcelain skin and all its charms.
The desire was so powerful, the draw all but irresistible, that he was shocked and stunned by it. He knew, in an instant, that the Hallowed moon of Beltane was what did this to him, and he growled low in ferocious defiance. He was Enforcer. He knew all too well the madness the full moons of Samhain and Beltane wrought on Demonkind. It was his calling, his special Destiny, to punish and control those who desired a member of any breed other than their own. It was not ever going to be acceptable for him to admire a non-Demon female in any fashion. He couldn’t afford the luxury of such risks. If he were ever to cross that maddening line, only his blood kin had the senses necessary to detect his betrayal of himself and his people. That would pit him against his young brother or, worse yet, his father. The idea of facing such humiliation was nothing to the proud Demon male when he considered the possibility that in a fit of madness, he might injure, or worse yet, kill a member of his own blood family. He knew all too well his own power and strength. After almost three centuries of life, he was more than familiar with his capabilities. People feared him because he was Enforcer, it was true, but they feared him more because they knew he was a savage and artful fighter who had almost no equal.
Adam swore hotly at the thought, jerking back unthinkingly in the underbrush. The girl in the water jolted at the sound and surged out from under the fall, coming toward him with several running steps through the water. Her motion caused tremors along the delectable flesh of the curves of her fair body. She saw him there, narrowing her gaze on him, and for a brief instant he saw the deep mink brown of sultry, bedroom-wise eyes. Then he very clearly saw the flick of a nictitating membrane drop down to cover her pupils as she attempted to define what manner of creature he was by use of her heat-sensing vision.
“Vampire!” he hissed at her in accusation, instantly on his guard as he snatched up the dagger at his belt. It mattered not if the Vampire was a female; she would be as strong and deadly as any male counterpart of her breed.
To Adam’s surprise, however, she merely set her hands on her hips, her stance wide and her expression almost bored as she took his measure. Her dark eyes drifted slowly over him, from head to toe, clearly evaluating him as if he were as naked and vulnerable as she was. About halfway down his body, she lifted a single slim brow as though in appreciation, and her lips curved into a wicked little smile.
Adam was shocked when her obvious interest found a mark within his tense body, a queer and robust thrill of heat and chill rushing under his skin and down his spine. Sweet Destiny, he thought in stunned disbelief, I know she is a Vampire, and still she arouses me! Adam wanted to be disgusted through and through at himself, but he hardly had the time to work up the proper response before she continued to walk toward him, a low little chuckle rolling out of her.
“My, my, they are making your breed quite large nowadays, are they not?” she asked as she rose from the water, climbing the bank of the stream. She looked down at the dagger in his hand, the metal gleaming in the moonlight as she walked up close enough so the tip of it touched just above her left breast. The fearless action completely disarmed the Enforcer as he tried to figure out what her game was. He sensed out for miles for other Vampires, other life forms, but they were alone. Even if she was clouding his perceptions with her Vampire ability to play with his mind, he knew how to remain clear despite that. He was fairly confident this was no trick or trap.
“I am assuming by your less-than-polite greeting that we are, perhaps, enemies?” she asked before affecting a wide yawn. Her whole body stretched, lean muscles flexing under perfectly pale skin. “I have been asleep for some time, you see. Is the war not over yet?”
“Demons and Vampires are still at war. And you can thank your bastard Prince for that,” he bit out. But her reaction was quite believable. If she had been asleep as she said, it was natural to expect she wasn’t up on recent news. It was not unusual for Vampires to “go to ground” when they grew bored with the outside world, seeking to sleep away a few years, hoping to wake during more exciting times.