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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
She was not speaking with offense or even with any great passion, but instead with intelligent logic—and yet her words had the power to touch Adam. For the first time as he looked at her he saw her to be an incredibly thoughtful and intellectual person, rather than just a flat stereotype of a race he had learned to hate or a creature of remarkable beauty and sensuality. The understanding made her even more irresistible to him; it somehow made her tightly clothed curves and pretty pale skin all the more magnetic.
“And who means more to you than others?” he found himself asking. There was a little bite of insecurity in the back of his brain and he bristled against it. What did it matter to him who was special in her life? She had even just told him that the Vampire definition of special was nothing compared to what a Demon might consider it to be. How much depth could she really feel?
How much depth could there ever be?
Somehow Adam was not comforted by his thoughts.
“Damien,” she said without hesitation. “We have walked this world together for quite some time. He is my closest friend.” She frowned a little. “Or he was. Until he bonded with a little Lycanthrope twit. He’s in love.” The word “love” couldn’t have been any more snide.
“I thought Vampires did not feel love. Or any great passion.”
“Apparently there is some great cosmic exception. We can fall in love ... with other Nightwalkers. Non-Vampires. Then there’s this whole ceremony ...” She waved it all off with the flip of an agitated hand. “Never mind. It is all a waste of time and energy, if you ask me.”
“Is it?” he asked her. “I had somehow thought a creature as passionate at heart as you seem to be would crave the deeper passions of love. Or even of infatuation.”
“I know Vampires who have been infatuated before. Some of us are at least capable of that. I watch how ridiculously they chase the object of their infatuation. But it always burns out, and always so quickly.”
“Are you telling me,” Adam asked her softly as he stepped up and closed the distance between them, “that you have never even been infatuated? Never been roused enough by another to find yourself smitten?”
She had come close once.
“Never,” she lied to him, lifting her chin and meeting his eyes directly. “Thankfully. Nothing turns a person into an idiot faster than some mindless fascination with another. No one should ever put so much energy into someone else. Others cannot be trusted to do anything but disappoint you.”
“As Damien has disappointed you?”
She took a breath to answer him quickly, but then held it as she thought about her answer more carefully. He noticed she did that when she was emotionally engaged. She breathed. Even though she didn’t need to. He suspected she felt far more than she owned up to. Despite all her callous exterior, Jasmine the Vampire was sensitive at heart. All of these barbs, he saw, were in defense of that heart.
“I am not half as disappointed by him as I was by you,” she said quietly. Then she seemed just as surprised she had said it as he was, and looked around quickly to see if anyone had heard her.
She pushed past Adam and hurried into the Great Hall, grateful it was empty, only the ever-present fire bearing witness to her ridiculous confession.
Stupid, stupid thing to say! she thought heatedly.
“What does that mean?” he asked a little numbly, more to himself than her because she wasn’t likely to have heard him. But he quickly hurried after her, grabbed her by the arm, and forced her to turn and face him. He got a savage little hiss in his face and a flash of fangs for his trouble. He let go of her, holding up his hand in a conciliatory gesture. He had no right to manhandle her, and she didn’t like it.
At least not when it came to conversation.
“What does that mean?” he asked her more strongly. “What have I done to disappoint you?”
“Never mind. It wasn’t what I meant to say. And regardless, we have other things to do at the moment.”
But Adam had never been known for his ability to let things go.
“I will not accept this. You should tell me how I have let you down. I do not see how. I hardly know you!”
“You see, this is why I said to forget about it! I should have known you would say something like that! Hardly know me? You think because I’m a Vampire I let just anyone grope at me and—and stick their tongue in my mouth? Hardly know me? I’d say we’re pretty damn intimate acquaintances, Adam! But clearly you don’t see me as anything more than some Vampire piece of trash you can poke your stick at a few times, then crumple up and throw away. You sit there with your holier-than-thou bullshit attitude about what lowlifes my kind are, but I’m not the one using a random naked girl for my jollies and then turning my back with no thought to the consequences!”
“Consequences? Like what? Are you trying to say I hurt your shallow little Vampire feelings?” he railed back at her, not liking the discomfort her words made him feel.
“I’m saying, you selfish little prick, that you did something to me! I don’t know what it was, but you did something! Then you left me struggling for four hundred years trying to figure out why two brief encounters with an enemy sucked the color out of my world! I may have succumbed to melancholy all on my own the first time, but the second time, when only six months had gone by and all I could do was search the empty earth for the things you made me feel ...”
Jasmine turned her back on him, her eyes burning with shocking tears. She needed to shut up! Why was she telling him all of this? It wasn’t even true! And even if it was true ...
It was true. It had been so very true. She had gone to ground again after a mere six months, hoping that sleep buried under the earth would make her cravings for ridiculous nothings go away.
“But we could never—”
“I know that! And so did you, but it didn’t stop you from touching me, Enforcer!”
She growled and swung away from him, confused by her own behavior and the tumult of strange feelings inside herself. This didn’t make any sense! Things were coming out of her mouth that she didn’t understand. She was feeling things she didn’t understand.
Adam did back off after that. She was right. It had never occurred to him how his actions might affect her. He had behaved rather selfishly in all of their encounters, writing off any impact on her because she was a Vampire, an unfeeling, coldhearted thing that didn’t deserve his respectful consideration. He’d only considered the ramifications of his actions as far as it concerned himself and his laws and the way others of his kind would look on him because of them.
It was beneath him. She had never once acted the enemy toward him, never once given him cause to be so dismissive. He had neglected to give her even the smallest common courtesy, not to mention being considerate of her feelings, however shallow or deep they might run. And he couldn’t even excuse himself by saying that after all he had been through, he couldn’t be expected to be on his best behavior. That excuse would do nothing to explain the fact he had been behaving rather selfishly since the moment he had laid eyes on her, taking any manner of liberties with her as it struck his fancy. Even an enemy deserved a certain level of respect. Human men of his time had often behaved like savages, taking from noncombatant women dignities that should never be a part of the battlefield. It had disgusted him.
He should be equally disgusted with himself.
He didn’t touch her, didn’t force her to his will. He wanted to do so, and on some level he understood that she liked his dominance and naturally aggressive nature, but physicality was one thing and personality something else ... and respect something else entirely. He had shown her none of the latter and wished to correct that.
“Please, wait,” he edited himself.
Perhaps the “please” took her by surprise. She certainly looked surprised when she turned around to look at him. Her reaction only served to make him feel even lower.
“I feel I must ... apologize.” It came hard to say it. He wasn’t used to second-guessing his actions. Even less used to admitting his faults to others. “It was never my intention to cause you pain. Whether you feel strongly or very little, that does not excuse thoughtless behavior.”
Jasmine hardly understood her own feelings, never mind how they pertained to him. She barely comprehended her own anger with him. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate what it took for him to take a hard look at himself and then admit any flaws he found to her. She might be something of a coldhearted, jaded bitch, but she could still appreciate a generous gesture when she saw one. Especially when she wasn’t expecting it. Especially when she usually behaved in ways that made her less than deserving of it.
“I don’t deserve much of an apology,” she admitted in return. “I have taunted you quite a bit.” She shrugged, brushing the entire matter off with the turn of her body. “Let’s focus on Ruth. I think we both will feel very much better when we get her in our sights.”
And so the matter was dropped ... for the moment. They were both quite happy and eager to turn their focus toward an enemy that well deserved their enmity. Both of their lives had been bent and twisted in some way because of the Demon traitor. It was well past time she paid for her crimes.
Windsong was content to spend her long lifetime going no farther than her own little village. She was even happier confining herself to the edges of her property, the borders of her herb garden, the walls of her simple but comfortable cabin home. She had, unlike the majority of her people, done her share of traveling in her life. She had spent time, however short, in almost every other Nightwalker court, lending them wisdom and guidance where she could, or her significant healing abilities. She counted the current leaders of the other Nightwalkers as some of her closest friends. Damien. Siena. In these past years, Noah. She even looked forward to making friends with the Shadowdweller Chancellors. She had met Tristan and Malaya more than once as the Nightwalkers strived to maintain their current peace with regular meetings and communications.
The Mistrals, Windsong’s people, did not have a central body of government. There had never really been a need for it. There were one or two village Elders who spoke for an individual village, and sometimes those Elders collaborated on matters of import to all the Mistrals. But that was a rare occurrence. A rare necessity. So when offers to exchange ambassadors between Nightwalker courts had begun, it only made sense that the most experienced and most centrally important village Elders take the foreign ambassadors into their homes.
This was how Windsong had ended up with not only her usual student, Lyric, under her care and roof, but a peculiar little Vampire named Izri. Of all the Nightwalkers, the Vampires were most resistant to the spell of Mistral voices and singing, provided they were old enough and mentally strong enough. Izri was about three centuries old, not very old by Vampire standards and certainly not very old compared to Windsong and the power of her voice. But Windsong had weeded the spell out of her voice, an act that required constant concentration and had slowed her speech down considerably over the past eighteen months, and Izri had focused her impressive mental strength, so they had managed to find a way of living together in an almost musical fashion.
Windsong and Lyric had been used to days full of constant song, and that was the reason Lyric was there. To learn songs. Healing verses and natural power blended together to heal any and all creatures. Some songs were stronger than others. Some were certainly out of Lyric’s young reach. She was only twenty years old. Quite the child. She needed time and study to become a true Siren one day. A Mistral who was truly proficient in song and her area of study and expertise would, with time, attain virtuosity. If that Mistral was female, she earned the title of Siren. If male, he earned the title of Bard. There was no fixed age for these things. It happened when the village Elders tested the Mistrals and considered them proficient enough to earn those titles.
Lyric was a long way off from that. And at first Windsong had worried that her teaching would suffer with the presence of another. She had found herself and Lyric constantly curbing their song whenever Izri was present. But the quirky Vampire had noticed this and had begun singing Lyric’s study songs herself.
Lyric seemed to enjoy the fact that there was someone less skilled than she in the house. Though she had been shy and afraid of Izri at first, she now felt compelled to give the Vampire points on how to sing better, passing on what little she knew quite eagerly, and, in time, with a growing confidence that Windsong had never seen in her student before.
Izri’s presence in the house had also forced Windsong to expand her dwelling. The two-room cabin had been adequate for a master and one pupil, but for all three of them? It was overdue for a bit of an overhaul and some modernization. However, their village did not have any carpenters so they had been forced to call on outsiders. And so two carpenters, a Bard named Baritone and his apprentice Dove, had come to live in their village. Other homes had opened their doors to them, inviting the carpenters in, something her xenophobic breed was not usually in a hurry to do. She was actually quite proud of her people for the ways they had pushed their own boundaries the past couple of years.
In some ways they had been forced to do so.
One of the more practical reasons Izri had come was to help the Mistrals learn how to defend themselves against Vampires, because it was a well-known fact that not all of her kind were as thoughtful as Izri was. Of all the Nightwalkers, the Mistrals were potentially the most vulnerable to the Vampire rogues. Mistrals relied solely on the spell of their voices and their shapechanging for self-defense, both of which the Vampires could easily circumvent if they were strong enough.