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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You know, I think I’ll keep it. It’ll look rather nice on my vanity,” she said.
The Demon looked at her a long moment, her strange eyes shifting through grayscale as Jasmine watched.
Then she turned up her lips in a small but genuine smile. Somehow, Jasmine got the feeling that she didn’t have much opportunity to smile. Impulsively, she went to search the stranger’s thoughts, but found she was thoroughly blocked out. Was she a Mind Demon, then? If so, she had to be a very powerful one to resist a telepath of Jasmine’s strength.
The rest of the fighters had slowly come toward the two of them, gathering around to look at the prison Ruth had made for herself. Then all attention turned to the Demon who reeked of magic and unclear motives.
She cleared her throat.
“About half a mile away you will find Ruth’s lair. There are others there to be dealt with. In her workroom, though, you will find Windsong held prisoner. You should go quickly before the unsupervised Vampires there get it in their heads to feed from the most powerful Mistral of all time.”
She then turned to Syreena, who was helping Damien keep his feet, letting the Vampire Prince lean his significant weight against her.
“In that workroom there is a charm kept inside a locked box. You will recognize it easily because the charm is wrapped up with your hair, Syreena. The hair that Ruth once ripped free of your head, she later used to keep you from getting pregnant. Since you do not plan to kill Ruth, you must burn the charm to ashes, and it will release the binding.”
“Who are you?” Adam demanded, moving forward to get in her face. “Why should we trust anything about you when you stink of magic? You even helped Ruth cast that thing she was going to use to capture me and Damien!”
“But she did not capture you, did she? All I have done is help cast the trap that finally caught the Demon traitor Ruth. Think on that a moment.”
She moved slightly, tipping her head back and taking a deep breath. It was as if she were breathing in freedom.
“Ah ... here it comes,” she breathed.
She held out her hands and Jasmine could see the tips of her fingers fading away. For the first time, emotion broke through the girl’s features. Tears filled her kaleidoscoping eyes.
“It means it’s all changed,” she breathed to Jasmine. “It means I did what I was supposed to do. I only pray this time things turn for the better.” She looked at Jasmine with a momentary flash of worry. “It will be better now, won’t it?”
The girl was fading quickly, but Jasmine felt her pain and thought she understood, at least in a small sense, what was happening.
“Yes,” she assured her softly. “Trust us. We’ll make it better for you.”
The girl let out a stark sob of relief.
And then she was gone.
“Who do you think she was?” Adam asked.
It was the question on everyone’s mind as they sat in the main salon of Damien’s citadel, an impromptu after-the-battle party. Apparently Valera was something of a cook, a skill that was rather wasted in a household of Vampires. She was tickled to have someone other than her mate to cook for. She served them dishes and cocktails, urging them to eat and replenish their strength.
Adam felt something brush against his legs as he stood in his usual stalwart manner. He looked down to see a fat cat winding around his ankles. Since when do Vampires keep pets? he wondered.
Since we decided to have the Witch as our guest, Jasmine provided for him. She has three of them. And they communicate telepathically ... when they feel like it.
Truly ? What exactly does a cat have to say ?
Mostly, they like to explain how we are doing everything wrong, Jasmine thought with an internal chuckle.
“I think it is clear she was from the future,” Damien said carefully.
“Do you think she was sent here by my ... my niece? The same girl who brought me here? Can she send someone else through time without going, too?” Adam asked.
“Yes. That is how I obtained my bride.” Noah spoke up from the doorway he had suddenly appeared in. He nodded his dark head to Damien, his gray and green eyes full of unspoken emotion. “Is it true? Is Ruth gone? For good?”
Jasmine reached for the ball that sat on the table in among the plates of food, looking very much like the perfect centerpiece. She hefted it for a moment, then tossed it to Noah. The Demon King caught the thing and turned it over in his hands slowly, watching as that hated face flashed briefly into view while Jasmine quickly recounted the story of Ruth’s capture.
“Hmm. She looks pissed,” he noted. Then he smiled. “Do we destroy the thing and her with it?”
“I was rather hoping to keep it as a souvenir,” Jasmine said. “Or perhaps trophy is the better word.”
Noah nodded and tossed it back to her.
“You captured her; it seems only right that you be her jailor.”
Jasmine turned the ball around in her hand.
“That girl—whoever she was, she took small, precise steps, even went so far as to learn magic and poison herself with it, just so she could be there at that moment and influence events so this could happen.”
“She came and warned us to back you up,” Damien said.
“She also stepped in to rescue Corrine from attack,” Noah injected. “Corrine described her guardian angel very clearly. Those shifting eyes ... that black and gray hair.”
“She was not like any Demon I’ve ever seen before,” Jasmine said. “She had a strong mind, could resist telepathy ...”
“She made a short teleport while rescuing Corrine, if you could call it a teleport. Corrine’s description was quite ... odd.”
“If she came from far enough into the future, she could have been a new breed of Demon we don’t yet know about,” Syreena posited. “Or perhaps she was mutated somehow. Maybe by an Exchange?”
The room fell quiet and Adam, who had been distracted by the waves of his mate’s hair and was presently toying with the fragrant curl of it, became aware of many eyes falling on him. He felt Jasmine stiffen under the attention, felt her bristle suddenly under the implied expectation in the thoughts of those around her.
Hush, little Vamp, he soothed her softly. The only expectations that concern you are those of your Imprinted mate. And if you noticed, I have not made any demands of you.
And why is that? she wanted to know, turning to look up into his eyes and dismissing the rest of the room. You are pushy and possessive. Why would you not demand the Exchange of me? You would have me all to yourself then. I couldn’t back off or walk away. We would be joined forever.
Jasmine, have you not been paying attention ? We are Imprinted. We already are joined forever. Nothing else we do can ever change that. Death is the only thing that can break this connection.
“But I’m a Vampire,” she said softly, moving close enough to let their bodies touch. “What makes you so certain it will be the same for me as it is for a Demon?”
“Look at how you lean into me. How you touch me. Even when your mind runs with doubts and little resistances, you are still here. Still connected to me. Vampire or Demon, it does not matter, Jasmine. You are mine and I am yours. And nothing from the past or the future can ever erase that.”
Jasmine broke away from him, stepped back, unable to help the urge to defy the connection, even as the greater part of her was delighting in the understanding that he was hers, that he had added more feeling and color to her life in a single day than she had known for centuries.
“Excuse me,” she said brokenly as she stumbled away from the gathering, the crystal ball still in her hands.
Adam found her in her rooms only minutes later, and stood as unobtrusively as an Imprinted mate possibly could in her doorway as she leaned against her vanity, spinning the crystal ball like a top on its surface, over and over again.
“I’m going to make her so violently ill that she pukes up all over herself,” Jasmine said with a bit of a pout to her soft lips.
“I wonder if she even feels the movement of her prison,” he said.
“Don’t spoil it for me,” she insisted, giving the ball another spin. “Later, I plan to boil it in water. How about it, Ruth? Up for a long overdue disinfection?” Jasmine smiled a little at the idea. “I wish I could put it in an autoclave. Now, that would sterilize the bitch. Maybe see how it feels to have someone sterilize you for a change?” she shouted at the ball.
“I think Syreena will find it cathartic enough to burn the talisman.”
“Well, maybe I don’t. Maybe I think Ruth got off too easy.”
“Perhaps. But what purpose will it serve to torment her now?”
“You mean besides making me happy?”
“Will it? Make you happy?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe it will just satisfy me a little. Something.” She sighed and finally looked up at him. “Everything is changed. All in a single day. I’ve caught my white whale. I’m permanently glued to you. Now Damien and Syreena are going to start making babies.” She sighed. “It’s all different and I feel out of place.”
Adam laughed at that, shaking his big shaggy head, his fair green eyes alight with merriment. “I think I can safely say I know how you are feeling. Though I do not know what a white whale has to do with this, I can definitely empathize with your feelings of displacement.”
Jasmine had to grin.
“I suppose everything is relative, is it not? There is no one here who has a better claim to feeling displaced than you do.” She lifted her eyes, the malachite color of them unbelievably beautiful, so indicative of how enmeshed they were on a spiritual and physical level. Then her eyes suddenly widened and he felt the thought that streaked through her mind long before it ever reached her lips.
“I cannot answer that question,” he said hastily. “But as I understand it, there has been one other unusual Imprinting that crossed unexpected breeds. When Demon and Druid mate, the Druid becomes physically dependent on the Demon mate, but when Demon and Demon Imprint, that is not the case. Tell me, what of Elijah and the Lycanthrope Queen? Is she symbiotically dependent on him? If Elijah is killed, will she die of energy starvation?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think they even know. But I think they both realize that neither of them would survive for very long without the other. And yet ... I survived four centuries without you ... even after you had already touched me.”
“And you suffered for it the entire time,” he said gravely. “You said so yourself. Not from lack of energy, but because I woke something inside you and did not fulfill the promise of it. Not until today.”
“Today. And today is over. The sun is climbing outside of the citadel. I can feel it. Sleep pulls at me.” She tilted her head. “You pull at me. In ways I’m afraid to be pulled. Your blood has been moving through my body like ... like ...” She didn’t want to say “poison.” She wouldn’t insult him like that.
“Like laudanum,” he supplied for her.
“But nothing so harsh or so dulling. Nothing so false. Instead it’s awakening everything. Things I didn’t realize were asleep inside me. I feel ... stronger. That battle went far more easily for me than it should have. I am old and I am strong, never doubt that, but I had advantages I never had before. I could sense things. Anticipate things. I think ... I think you gave me what it is inside you that makes you such a fine hunter. Makes you Enforcer.”
“That has less to do with my blood, I think, and more to do with the way our minds are connected. I could feel your every moment, and instinct joined my thoughts to yours, urged you to act and react. Just as I felt the same from you.” He moved into the room, coming up to her side and brushing gentle fingertips over the curve of her shoulder. Then he reached to touch the gash in her forehead that was already knitting and healing. “I am notorious for cracking my head into my enemy’s to throw off his senses.”
She laughed softly at that. She touched the spot as well, their fingers meshing gently. “I wondered where that came from. And to be honest, defanging a Vampire is akin to kicking a guy in the balls. Guys don’t kick other guys in the balls and Vamps don’t defang other Vamps.”
“Ah well ... perhaps that was a holdover from my Vampire fighting instincts.”
“Famous for defanging Vampires, were you?”
“Actually, Jacob was the best at it. I will never admit it to him, but I honed the technique watching him.”
“Jacob? Really?” She looked utterly stunned. “Mr. Do Good?”
“Well, you were asleep for the meat of the war, so you did not know his reputation as a Vampire hunter.”
Adam raised a brow. “My brother is a man who does much good?”
“He’s a stickler for the law. For peace. For doing the right thing at all costs. It’s a wonder he ever crossed the line and took Bella to mate. They were the first, you know. They were everything the rules said shouldn’t happen. But he did it. This Imprinting thing ... it changes people, I guess.”
Adam could feel her following thought. She didn’t want to be changed so much and enmeshed so much in someone else that she lost herself. The way she felt Damien had done with Syreena.
“But now that I look at it,” she said quietly, “the essence of who he is hasn’t changed. He is still the strong, implacable ruler I have always known. And yet ... he’s also more. There’s more depth to him. More contentment. More ... color.”
“Do you not want color?” he asked her, his thumb turning to drift against her cheek. Her skin was so smooth and his calluses so rough in contrast. He had a swordsman’s hands and she had the skin of a lady.