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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Let us find you a proper dress, love,” he said.
“A dress? Must I?” she whined.
“Well, I am certain we can find you some doublet and hose. Regardless of what you choose, our tailor is excellent, keeps well up on fashions, and uses the most exquisite materials he can find. Come with me and you can choose.”
Jasmine quickly began to follow him, eager for some nice silks to wear.
“So we are still at war with the Demons, I hear.”
Damien sighed. “Yes,” he admitted. “It is so tedious, I know. But now that we have been about it so long, I am rather at a loss as to how we should stop it.”
“Well, I am certain you will find a way. I would rather not have Demons trying to molest me everywhere I go.”
Although, she thought, some molestations are better than others.
Jasmine caught herself not only in the thought but also in a full-blown heated body memory of her encounter with the Water Demon.
Noah was completely bemused.
He had known Adam all his life. Not only were they the best of friends, but Gideon, who was the Demon King’s Siddah, was also Adam’s, and Noah being only forty years younger than Adam, they had been raised almost like brothers when Noah had come to be fostered. Therefore, Adam had always been less like a cousin and more like an elder brother to Noah. And although he was well beyond the age of needing guidance, Noah was used to that dynamic. Adam was always the one to impart his version of wisdom, in control of all situations and certain of his morality, while Noah tended to be hotheaded and temperamental. When the King floundered, he often turned to the Enforcer for rescue and guidance.
But tonight ...
Noah watched with honest fascination as Adam paced a hard circuit across the open floor of his castle’s main room. The Water Demon kept both hands at the level of his weapons belt, alternately gripping at the empty dagger sheath on the right or the pommel of the blade on his left. His boots snapped furiously against the stone floor as he paced again and again, his breath coming in a loud fury that echoed through the otherwise silent room.
“Fine-bred little ...” Adam exploded in a growl of frustrated outrage, whirling to face his perplexed companion. “Never believe it when someone tries to tell you women are the weaker sex!”
Ah. Clarity at last, Noah thought with an inner chuckle. He would never have expected it to be a woman that would ruffle Adam’s flat calm. There were some who thought the Enforcer to be devoid of all emotion, but those few who were close to him knew Adam buried his feelings deep beneath morals, honor, and duty. Noah understood that Adam’s seemingly coldhearted approach to the business of his life was sometimes all that allowed him to commit acts of punishment against those he saw and socialized with every day. Those he secretly respected. To get emotionally close to someone meant he risked putting a sword through his own heart should he be forced into a battle with them in the name of his duties as Enforcer.
Noah had become one of only two exceptions outside of Adam’s immediate family. Elijah, the warrior, was the other. The King took this privilege very seriously, so despite his amusement, he realized Adam was genuinely troubled.
“I imagine you have a specific woman in mind?” he asked.
“Yes! No!” Adam countered himself quickly out of an instinct for self-preservation. “It does not matter. They strive to perplex us and drive us to base and ridiculous behaviors, be they mothers, sisters, or lovers. Even a total stranger! A woman can have the power to beguile and confuse a man until he knows not right from wrong! Beware, Noah,” he cautioned his friend, pointing an ominous finger at him, “for this is what leads many of our males astray.”
“I see.” Noah couldn’t resist. “So what is it that leads our females astray? Do you mean to say it is they themselves?”
“Yes! No!” Adam grunted explosively. “Damn me thrice and let Destiny laugh, I do not know! ”
“Adam,” Noah said quietly, truly concerned now as he stood up to halt his disturbed friend’s furious motions. “Be easy, my friend,” he soothed carefully. “Remember, ’tis not the temptation that makes us wrong, but the giving in to it. Whatever has happened, you clearly resisted what was thrown in your path. You would not be here confessing to me otherwise.”
“Aye, that I did,” Adam agreed, finally taking a deep, centering breath. “But I’ve never come so close to crossing that line before, Noah. I have never fully understood how all-consuming ... how hard it is for us to pull back from our basest urges no matter how wrongly directed they may be.”
“I cannot say I understand entirely, although I have felt more than my share of those cravings for flesh and gratification. But I’ve never craved outside of my race and, Destiny willing, I never will. I should rather die a horrible death than find myself slaking my lust on a non-Demon woman.”
“Never fear,” Adam assured him. “So long as I am alive, I will never allow you to get that far gone.”
“In that I have complete faith,” Noah acknowledged. “However, I realize also that you are forced to be your own last line of defense. Who do you have to pull you back from the abyss of madness as you do for so many of us?”
“My father. Or perhaps Jacob. Maybe even you could sense my disturbance, if you were aware you must be on watch for it.” Adam took a deep breath as he further composed himself. “And now you are made aware, cousin. But be assured the threat has passed, and, luckily, is unlikely to return. My duties for the Hallowed holiday begin to press on me and I can already sense I will be quite busy the next few nights.” The Enforcer turned to his friend and they clasped arms strongly. “I must thank you. I had meant for this to be a very different sort of visit. But your support has been invaluable to me.”
“It is good to be able to lend you guidance for a change, my friend. Perhaps it means there is hope for my maturity yet.”
“I highly doubt it.” Adam chuckled. “I will see you at the festival. Mother will not hear of your absence.”
“I will be there.”
Jasmine walked Damien’s property with a slow and thoughtful gait. The Romanian stronghold where Vampire government was centered was made of painstakingly crafted stone and mortar, towering far above the barren shale of the mountainside surrounding it, and it loomed over anyone who might lay eyes on it. Though few but Vampires saw it, and they were not easily intimidated. It was deep in Damien’s territory, far away from any of the smelly human settlements in the area. Luckily, humans were a superstitious lot and were very easily frightened. They had no desire to explore in an area that gave them chills of dread.
As she walked through the open bailey, under the massive portcullis that protected it, she began to find Vampire servants hurrying about their work maintaining Damien’s household. She wondered who it was these days that tagged along after Damien. There was always an entourage of pleasure-seekers, looking for fun and excitement, scurrying after him.
She had barely made it back inside the actual building before she was plucked up off her feet and spun hard about by none other than Damien himself. Eyes of midnight blue dancing and strong shoulders bulging with the muscles that now held her high into the air, the Vampire Prince laughed up at her in pure delight.
“I cannot express to you how happy I am you have returned!” It was said with relief and scolding all at once, and she sympathetically stroked warm fingers through his hair.
“I am sorry. I suppose my melancholy got the better of me at the time. I simply wanted nothing more than to go to ground and sleep.”
Damien nodded, letting her slide down his big body and dropping her back onto her feet. He looked her over with a stern, appraising eye. “You look much better now. Properly attired. After a fashion.” Damien eyed the beautiful court dress she was wearing, though without rolls, ruff, or farthingale. The tailor had no doubt stitched and tacked it here and there to accommodate her unconventional manner of wearing the dress. “I highly expected you to be wearing male attire.”
“’Tis as bulky and bejeweled as a lady’s garb. Fashion has not changed much. I promise I will have a few proper ladies’ outfits so you can take me out into public. But should I dress in the English fashion or the Italian? What of the French?”
“Perhaps you can go the way of the Dutch. No heavy jewelry there.”
She snorted. “I would make a lousy Puritan. I suppose I will find my way. I just need some time to get my feet above the ground rather than below it.”
“I will have a girl assigned to you. Or do you need two?”
“One should be a good start. She can find help if she needs it.”
“I have sent for your things from storage, and I will put you in the rooms next to mine,” Damien informed her.
“Hmm. Very well. Is there anything else I should know about the world in general? Like the fact that the Demons want to kill us?”
“You exaggerate the thing, really. It is more of a ... game. We play tit for tat. It is not as though either of us is arranging huge attacks with our armies.”
“Hmm. That would explain why the Demon did not kill me,” she mused.
“I ran into one in the woods. He was no bother,” she said, waving the matter off. Well, not unless she counted the way the memory of his intimate wash over her bare body had bothered her. In fact, it had made her crave things. Things that were forbidden on both sides of their cultures. And it was clear from his distaste for her breed that he had done everything against his will or better judgment. “What night is this?” she asked.
“It is Beltane eve. You are just in time for the celebrations on the morrow. With you here, it will make for a tremendous festival!” He hugged her until she thought her ribs would snap. She was beginning to get the feeling he really had missed her.
“How long have I been gone, exactly?” she asked him.
“Oh, I would say a good forty years now. You left me shortly after we visited Queen Elizabeth.”
“After Dawn was killed on a French battlefield,” she acknowledged. “How did that freckled little queen make out, anyway?”
“Quite well, actually. She is still alive, last I heard. She never married, never produced an heir, and really never cared what anyone else thought of her. I see a bit of you in her, though you claimed never to like her.”
“Hmm. Perhaps I might have been hasty in my judgments,” she mused with a grin. “I would not have thought she had it in her to make it through without a man, the way they were always dancing attendance on her. So many think your sex is the be-all and end-all of progress and performance.”
“In truth,” he said with merriment in his midnight blue eyes, “I think it is women who are the be-all and end-all of most species. You are the ones who must work your minds, bodies, and souls the hardest in order to keep us going.”
“Such a progressive thinker,” she lauded him. “And yet you war with the Demons. Quite dangerous.”
Damien shrugged. “I like dangerous,” he said predictably.
“And what of you?” she asked. “Have you a woman? Perchance children?”
She wasn’t surprised when he shook his head. Damien had no interest in romantic entanglements. Nor did the idea of hearth, home, and family appeal to him in the slightest. Like Queen Elizabeth, he would probably die alone and unfettered by all those sorts of complications. And it was Damien’s predictability in matters like these that made it so delightful to be in his company. Jasmine smiled at the thought and hugged her body against his.
“So it will be just you and me, two lone and contented bachelors, walking the centuries together,” she said happily.
“Always,” he assured her. “Provided you manage to stay aboveground with the rest of us.”
“I shall do my very best,” she promised him.
Adam walked through the tightly grouped wagons and tents the Gypsies had pitched on his father’s lands the night before. In honor of the Beltane festival, gaily colored banners had been set to fly. These wanderers were often labeled as thieves and whores, pickpockets and criminals, but Adam had never agreed with that harshly judgmental assessment.
Since Demons had begun to find themselves forced to emulate the human culture more and more over the centuries in order to keep from standing out and attracting unwanted attention, they could appreciate how restrictive such narrow-minded thinking could be. However, it had been wise for Demonkind to keep a low profile as humans began to heavily populate the earth. All they had to do was watch how the more blatant Lycanthropes and, worse yet, the Vampires had made targets of themselves and were now hunted by superstitious human zealots. As powerful as the Nightwalker breeds were, they had their weaknesses that the peoples of the sunlight hours could exploit, causing them great harm and even death.
The Gypsies were perhaps the closest things to humans who were aware of what Adam’s family’s true nature really was. While to most outsiders his kin looked like just another wealthy noble family, the Gypsies had their ways of seeing beyond that facade. They, too, lived mostly in the night, and with their own mysteries and mystical perceptions of the future, they were perhaps destined to one day be the first humans who would earn the label of Nightwalkers for themselves.
Adam was interested in the Gypsies’ nomadic lifestyle. It always amazed him how widely things changed from clan to clan and year to year. Sometimes he saw the same face every holiday for years, at other times he never recognized a single one from Samhain to Beltane.
He had been busy since leaving Noah, chasing down a few Demon strays in need of enforcement, so he was ready to enjoy a little time to wander on his own for a while. The Gypsies were just the distraction he needed to get his mind off ...