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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You know I have great respect and love for you, do you not?” Adam asked him quietly. “There is no one in the world I am closer to.”
“Noah,” Jacob said with a snort that was trying too hard to be contrary.
“Even above Noah, Jake. We are brothers. We have spent so much of our lives together.”
“You and Noah have spent more,” he felt compelled to point out. It was true. Noah and Adam had already been fast friends by the time Jacob came along.
“Do you really think that matters? Do you really think I hold someone else above my brother in my heart?”
Apparently Jacob had wondered. Adam could see the instant of questioning vulnerability in his brother’s eyes. There was appreciation and pleasure over the honor lighting Jacob’s face for the brief moment he allowed it to show. It was immediately followed by a sly look of suspicion. The elder brother understood. Jacob knew he didn’t express affection often or easily. It only went to prove his point, though, that they were much closer than Jacob realized.
“What troubles you?” Jacob asked him.
And just as suddenly Adam no longer wanted to travel this route. It was best he admit no weaknesses to his brother or anyone else. Noah was indeed the exception, but that was because he was King and it was Adam’s duty to report any flaws in himself that might affect his performance. Or that was what he quickly told himself.
“Nothing,” Adam brushed Jacob off with a half smile. “I suppose that knock you gave me shook free some sentimentality. Do not get used to it.”
Jacob laughed at him, the sound still a bit unsure, but Adam brushed the rest of it away by giving him a good slap against his unguarded cheek. That immediately awoke Jacob’s competitive nature again, and before they knew it, both men were back to wrestling in the dirt.
To keep his promise to his mother, appease her and avoid her temper all in one maneuver, Adam had invited Hannah, Noah’s elder sister, as his escort to the Beltane festivities. She was at present gladly keeping his mother occupied at a distant tent in the Gypsy encampment where a young girl of indeterminate age was selling beautiful handcrafted jewelry.
To be honest, Adam truly enjoyed Hannah. Perhaps because she was more like a friend than she was an escort, but also because she wasn’t as intimidated by his daunting role of Enforcer as everyone else was. Of course, she still had her respectful fears where he was concerned and likely always would. It was to be expected, considering how his position and reputation were received in their society. He had long ago resigned himself to the understanding that he would never meet a woman who wouldn’t always be a little bit afraid of him.
Demon woman, he clarified in his head as the image of sultry brown eyes and fearless laughter filled his mind. Perhaps that was part of her allure, Adam mused. She had been so unafraid. She had been ... on equal standing.
Adam shrugged away thoughts of Vampires and focused again on his escort of the evening. Mainly, the young female Fire Demon knew what he did and did not want her to expect from him. They had good times together; he enjoyed the temper that came with her infamous element, as well as her equally volatile passions. However, they both knew she would settle down and have a firm commitment to family one day. Perhaps one day very soon. For all her brassy ways, Hannah was a domestic at heart. Home and hearth and a child at her breast was what she wanted the very most.
Adam was nowhere close to wanting anything like that, and Hannah was well aware of that. But until the time came for them to part ways and seek their separate futures, they spent the present keeping each other company. Especially in situations like this one, where Hannah occupied and satisfied his mother so he was able to manage other things. Hannah glanced his way in the middle of her conversation, sending him a sly, womanly smile that told him she expected repayment for being such an obliging companion. Adam chuckled under his breath, drawing a few appreciative glances from two young Gypsy girls who were sitting in the dark grass with their bare feet and calves crossed casually before them. They leaned their heads together and made a show of whispering while they blatantly appraised him.
Strange how their dark looks and sensual knowing touched him not at all, and yet ...
Angry with himself for yet again obsessing about the Vampire, Adam stepped away from the bustle of the festival and the Gypsies for a moment, moving into the depths of the forest nearby. He needed a moment of peace so he could reach out and test his senses for any trouble among the Demons. While not as taxing as Samhain, Beltane was still hard on the Demon psyche, the full Hallowed moon pressing down on their minds with coaxing force, begging them to let their passions run wild. The Enforcer could sense those who were weakening, who were giving in to those forces. He had been born with the ability as part of his makeup, and it allowed him to hunt down those who were slipping free of control. Those who might endanger innocent lives.
But as he stood there in the silent darkness, he heard no warnings, felt no tension from any other Demon out there. The Enforcer could rest easy knowing there was nothing for him to do but enjoy the Beltane festival with his family.
When Adam emerged from the woods and stepped back into the Gypsy encampment, Jacob caught up with him.
“Very clever, bringing Hannah to appease Mother,” his younger brother mocked him straight off, nodding his head to the Demon female in question.
“At least I will not be on Mother’s bad side come the morning,” Adam said absently, trying to focus on the world around him again, trying to pull away from the senses of his Enforcer self and become more the son and brother.
“Mother does not have a bad side, only a meddling one,” Jacob pointed out with a put-upon sigh.
“You blatantly disregarded her request that you bring an escort.” Adam put energy into the conversation. “You have earned yourself a steady string of lectures this week. I am glad you have the time for them. I, however, have more important things to do.”
“So you say,” Jacob goaded, his dark eyes flashing like those of the Gypsy girls. “I prefer to think you are simply Mother’s well-trained little boy.”
“Thinking like that is how someone finds his face kissing the dirt come training tomorrow.”
Jacob was unimpressed by the threat, and it showed in his casual, single-shouldered shrug.
“You gave her your word,” Adam pressed.
“No, you gave her my word, there is a difference.”
“That is splitting hairs.”
“Hannah is just the sort of girl Mother would love to see reel you in,” Jacob said, changing the topic back to taunting Adam. “She is from the royal household, she is smart, sassy, and sensible, and Mother likes her. I think you would do best to worry about ending up at the altar and stop worrying about threatening me.”
“Hannah knows better than to look at me for home and hearth,” Adam responded, clearly unconcerned. “We make excellent friends, occasionally quite excellent bedfellows, and nothing more.”
“She seeks a husband,” Jacob pressed, trying to get a better rise out of Adam. “Not many of us are oriented in that manner, but Hannah is.”
“Seeks, yes. Seeks in me, never. She is too smart for that.” He flipped an impatient hand at his brother. “Do stop pestering me. Buzz about me like a fly for much longer and I will swat you.”
“You can try,” was the cocky retort.
Adam ruined his threat by smiling. One day, that threat would actually have truth behind it, if Adam did not keep up with his young sibling. Jacob might gain the upper hand one day because he’d had the luck of being born under the element of the Earth. It was a powerful element, controlling nearly everything that affected the planet. Maybe someday the heavens and the universe beyond would become part of their domain, but it would very likely be a long time before a child was born to an element of that magnitude. And while Demons were far more advanced in science, culture, and logic than humans were, they were admittedly still savages themselves in other ways.
If they had been above savagery, there would be no need for Adam’s profession. He knew the majority of Demons wished quite hard that there was no such thing as an Enforcer. Having been tempted himself with forbidden desires, he felt kinship with his brethren keenly. When considering it, Adam would gladly give up his profession if it meant no more moonlit madness or straining Hallowed nights.
Shrugging off thoughts of the impossible, he focused on castigating his troublesome brother. “You are over two centuries old and supposedly a highly respected and successful adult,” he remarked to Jacob. “Why is it you only act like one outside of our home?”
“Because if not for me, you would take things far too seriously.”
Jacob ducked swiftly to avoid a swat from Adam.
That was when Adam caught sight of the Gypsy girl who lingered not too far from Jacob’s back. She was not socializing with any of the others. Instead she hung back and stood cloaked in moonlight, trees, and shadows as well as a burgundy-colored hooded cape, the material unusually rich for a girl of her station. She stood a few yards behind Jacob, her breath clouding on the air. The early spring night was bitingly cold, in spite of the bonfires lit for the festival, but Adam was suddenly struck with the feeling that it was not the cold that made her draw the fabric of her cloak so tightly around herself.
She seemed afraid.
Strange. The Gypsies were usually quite at ease with them. They even shared almost the same religious beliefs and had proven to be quite open and accepting of the Demons. However, he could hardly blame her for her fear when her kind received censure from so many other quarters.
“Jacob, if you will excuse me?”
He had the strangest urge to investigate this odd young woman. As the eldest son, it was his duty to keep a keen eye on all those invited onto the family lands tonight. Her anxiety seemed to strike a particular chord in him, and Adam was very used to obeying his instincts when it came to things like this. Adam felt Jacob turn to watch as he moved around him and began to cross the chill, wet grasses in order to approach the girl who had piqued his interest. He saw dark eyes of undetermined color staring out from beneath the hood.
Adam slowed his steps when he realized those eyes were not focused on him as he had first thought.
They were fixed solely on his brother.
He paused, turning to follow the line of her sight back to Jacob, unable to help wondering why she should look at him in such a ravenous manner. It was quite possible she was merely attracted to him; Jacob was, after all, a seriously handsome heir to very powerfully attractive genes. But she would be disappointed if she thought to lure Jacob to her bed. Demons mating with humans was their priority taboo, after all. However, with the full moon of Beltane lurking above them all, and after having so recently faced his own wayward desire for an inappropriate woman, Adam would have a care for his brother’s well-being.
He was momentarily glad to see that Jacob had not noticed the girl even for a second. Of course, Jacob would be the very last Demon to break that particular code. His brother would rather die than act with such harmful dishonor. Humans were too fragile, too frail. It would be like picking up a cat by its tail with the intention of swinging it and releasing it at speed. You knew it was wrong, knew it would be painful and harmful to the smaller, more vulnerable creature, possibly even resulting in death. To do so anyway would be tantamount to coldhearted brutality toward an innocent and defenseless creature.
Jacob was incapable of such brutality. Adam believed that with all of his soul.
At least if Adam had crossed the line and taken his cravings for that fine little Vampire to conclusion, he would have only broken laws of purity. The saucy little Nightwalker was more than his equal in strength, for all her feminine build, and he wouldn’t have hurt her in the process.
The thought was a wholly wicked one and damnably distracting in its potential. Adam shook it off and tried to focus on the concern at hand. A Gypsy girl looking at Demons the way this girl was could be a potential problem. Adam would cut the trouble off at the knees by giving her an ungentle discouragement. Flirting was one thing, but there was something far too covetous in her eyes. Strong as Jacob was, Adam wished him to have no temptations on such a volatile night.
“Are you enjoying our festival?” he asked her by way of greeting.
The Gypsy turned her bottomless eyes onto him slowly, clearly uncaring if he observed her interest in his brother. She then swept an implacable gaze over him slowly and thoroughly, as if she were appraising him for all he might be worth. For some reason, it unnerved Adam. He was not easy to perturb, so her scrutiny put his guard up immediately. Gypsies were known to dabble in magic and, though she did not smell of that vile taint, there was always a chance she was dealing in some unknown variable of it.
She was not like the others. To start, she was far younger than she had first appeared from a distance. It was the eyes that had fooled him. They were aged beyond the years of her body, drawing time to her facial features that did not belong there. This girl, he realized, had seen terrible pain in her lifetime. She wore the weight of the world on her slender shoulders. She was tall for a human girl, even at what was clearly a very young age. She was not pale or darkly tanned, but had coloring that was a cross between the two, a slightly warm toffee that seemed somehow out of place with the swarthy Gypsies and Demons all around her. Still, the pitch-colored hair and shadowed eyes were Gypsy through and through.
“You are the eldest son of the lord of these lands?”
She spoke in his language, but it was awkward on her tongue, her accent heavy and strange. She posed it as a question, but he felt she already knew the answer.
“I am. Adam, by name.”
“Adam.” She breathed his name as if it was a sacrament, and the tone gave him a chill. How odd that she did not dissemble and call him “my lord” as anyone else would have done. Was she really so bold? She was certainly old enough to know better. Her behavior led him to believe she was plotting something. Perhaps she thought to become the mistress of one of the lords of the household. Despite rumors, Gypsy women were not indiscriminate when it came to choosing a man. They were far more calculating than that. It was something Adam could respect, actually. There was nothing wrong with trying to better one’s position in the world. There were many ways of doing so, and the use of one’s body was one path. Considering the way he and Hannah used one another for ulterior motives, he would be a hypocrite to think otherwise.