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|Adam(Nightwalkers #6) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You said I was jealous of Syreena? I wasn’t,” she said softly.
“You were jealous of Damien,” Adam realized gently.
Jasmine burst into sobs, her hand trying to cover her face, but her face was too tender to touch. She was left raw and exposed in more ways than one. Adam climbed into the bath and surrounded her softly, combining with the water around her to tenderly wash up against her. But he left his shoulders, chest, and neck whole, giving her a point of strength to hold on to. He touched watery fingers to her face, absorbing every salty tear as quickly as it fell so it wouldn’t have the opportunity to sting her.
“Jasmine,” he whispered hushed into her ear. “I am not going to leave and I am not going to take my love, your love, and all those brilliant emotions you are finally feeling away from you. We are all here to stay. You need to give yourself permission to enjoy them. You have waited so long for them.” He took a breath. “I know. I know I left you once. But had I known ...”
“You still would have gone to save your brother,” she said. “And neither you nor I will ever know how many lives you changed by doing so, Adam. Ruth is gone. Defeated at last. I think I am glad I suffered a drab life for a few centuries rather than consider the possibilities. Can you imagine what it would have been like, ten years from now, had Jacob died at Ruth’s hands? Twenty years? Can you imagine the power Ruth would have gained with Nico still alive at her side? The people she would have hurt?
“I saw that girl’s eyes, Adam,” Jasmine said softly. “She was dead inside. She was ... she looked like she had waited four hundred years just to feel that one moment of life the way it was meant to be felt.”
She turned in his watery embrace to look up at him.
“I should take that lesson to my heart,” she said. “The present is so precious. Not to be wasted. Oh my God, look what I almost did!” She lifted her scorched hand to his face, touching the roughness of a cheek in need of grooming. The detail, the dimension of it, the reality of it, made her chest expand with emotion.
“You never meant to hurt yourself,” he said, covering her hand where it lay against him. “Only to run away.”
“Never in my long lifetime have I lost track of the sun. How is that even possible?”
“Fear can blind us to a great many things. Just as prejudice can. I might well have killed you the moment we met. I would have destroyed my own heart without realizing it.”
“It makes me wonder how many of us have done just that? All these years of various wars with each other. How many Nightwalkers have destroyed their own happiness in the name of something as foolish as wars, or boredom, or laws, or the dozens of other types of nonsense we have put in our way?”
“Ten? A hundred? Thousands? We can never know about the past. Only move on into the future.”
“Yes,” she breathed, pulling him to the reach of her mouth, “let’s do that. Let’s move on into the future, Adam.”
Adam smiled, touched his lips gently to hers, and gave her a steady nod.
Windsong stood in the meadow, letting the wind blow over her body, through her hair and against her ears, the sound its own special sort of music. Harrier sat on a rock a short distance away, keeping an eye on her. He had barely let her out of his sight since Damien had returned her to Brise Lumineuse. Her kidnapping had wildly reinforced the village’s fears about strangers and letting others come into their sphere. They foolishly thought that if they kept their heads down, all would be well.
But Windsong believed the Mistrals were only destroying themselves with their paranoia and fear. Their isolation kept them from socializing even with other Mistrals. Their birthrates were nearly at a standstill. Windsong couldn’t even recall the last time a Mistral couple exchanged vows. Became a family.
Harrier leapt down off his rock and came over to her, the breeze ruffling his beautiful hair, making her understand how handsome he was and what a shame it would be if he never ventured forth and found himself a bride, never found himself someone to make equally beautiful babies with. And that wasn’t even taking into consideration the extraordinary gift of his voice. The world would suffer a tremendous loss if that gift were never passed to later generations.
But like her, she knew, Harrier believed the insular Mistrals were headed for eradication in the future. At least, that was how he had felt before her capture. She wondered if fear had been revived inside him. If his view had changed.
“Harri, we are the oldest of our kind. We are responsible for the future of our people. You know that, right?”
“I have always known that,” he agreed, sitting beside her and circling an arm around her shoulders. “I have also always known you see the future more clearly than anyone else I know. I believe ... part of me believes you let yourself be captured, Windsong, in order to bring certain things to pass. I find it hard to believe you did not have vision of that encounter.”
“Not entirely,” she hedged. “Nothing is ever that clear for me. But I have seen many other things. I see other ways in which my interference is needed.” She smiled softly at him. “My personal happiness ... there will be some years to pass before we reach that point. But you and some others, Lyric and her little friend Thrush—you will never find your futures if you all continue to hide from the world. None of us will.”
“The villagers will not believe that. They are set in their ways. They are afraid.”
Windsong met his eyes firmly.
“Then I must find a way to break their fear.”
“If anyone can, it will be you, love.”
Jacob was wandering the caverns a short distance away from where Bella lay resting and recovering. Only she wasn’t quite all his Bella yet. She was conscious, and she was improving every day, but it was as though she had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her speech was slow and difficult, her thoughts were disjointed. She had horrible nightmares caused by the infusion of raw evil and tainted magical power she had taken into herself. The mental telepathic connection they had created together when they had Imprinted was silent.
Gideon said she would heal in time, and that all would return to normal one day. She would sleep in peace, she would scold him in his head, the unity and harmony that flowed between them would slowly come back to them. She just needed to heal. Heal in a way that Gideon’s impressive medical skills and powers of the Body simply could not accomplish.
“The Mind and the human brain are very complex,” Legna had said when he had tried turning to her for help as well. “I can work with her to help bring her along, but this trauma will only heal itself in its own time. It will not adhere to our impatient schedules, it will not bend to our desperate wishes to see her back to normal. It has its own methods, and often those are the best methods. If we rushed her back, it could cause more harm than good. Isabella is the most complex and most powerful Druid of her time. Her power knows no equal and, so far, knows no real boundaries. Everything she experiences seems to make her grow in strength almost at an exponential rate. I can only believe that when she comes back from this trauma she will be herself and even more than she was before. Do not worry, Jacob. I feel very strongly she is on her way back to you.”
Jacob felt it, too. Not at first. It had taken almost a week of watching her stammer and stutter her way through the simplest of sentences, having difficulty remembering who he was, who her daughter was, before he had finally seen the small glimmer of hope he had been looking for.
“D-did t-the g-girl co-ome tuh-tuh se-ee me?”
“Her name is Leah,” Jacob reminded her gently for what had to be the twentieth time that evening. “And yes, she came to see you. But you were sleeping. She is off playing with the Lycanthrope children. Do you want me to bring her to you?”
“N-no. L-let her ha-have fun.”
Jacob nodded, sitting beside her in bed with a hairbrush in hand.
“Let me brush some of the tangles out of your hair,” he said quietly.
“O-okay.” She leaned forward, her body jerking as she tried to correct her balance and control her movements. Then she rested her cheek on his shoulder and he sensed she closed her eyes. He brushed her hair in silence, needing a few moments of quiet, a few moments in which she wasn’t struggling for everything she did.
“A-Asher,” she said softly.
It was peculiar to hear his father’s name on her lips. He hadn’t even realized she knew his parents’ names. He leaned back and tipped her chin so he could see in her eyes.
“What was that, little flower?” he asked her.
“A-Asher. F-for t-the b-boy.” She closed her eyes and shook her head a little, clearly forcing herself to get it right. “The ba-baby. O-our son.”
And there she was. Bella. His Bella. In her eyes and in that stubborn moment of fighting her way through, he saw his wife, her spirit, for the first time in days. Tears had come quickly, and he had been forced to work hard to keep control of them. He wouldn’t let her see his fear, even when the reaction was relief from that fear.
“It is a good name. A strong name,” he said.
She nodded. A smooth, decisive nod.
And so they had named their son.
Now, in the solitude of the cavern, with nothing but etched walls surrounding him, he let himself exhale a shaky breath, let himself lean against one of those walls for support.
Jake. He hadn’t let anyone in four hundred years call him that. Honestly, Adam had been the only one he’d ever let call him Jake. It had been special. Personal. A connection that had signified Adam was the elder brother and Jacob the younger. Adam was the protector and mentor, and Jacob the one he sheltered and cared for.
He had not had the benefit and comfort of those things since the day Adam had died.
Been taken away.
“Adam.” Jacob opened his eyes and turned his head to look at his brother. It was like a vision. Or perhaps a hallucination. The Adam he knew was all there, big and powerful and taking up so much space in the closed-in caverns with just the energy of his presence. Only he had been tucked into modern clothing, his hair had been shaped closer to his head and trimmed short against his collar. He was incredibly kempt. It made Jacob chuckle.
“My metrosexual brother. I would never have imagined it.”
Adam raised a brow. “I hope that was not an insult. You are older than me and no doubt more skilled, but I have no doubt I can hold my own against you. I will not tolerate you disrespecting me.”
Jacob had to smile. “It is true. I am actually the elder brother now.” The thought amused him. But not for long. “I would rather not be,” he said gravely. “I—” He stopped. He wasn’t going to spend time or energy wishing for things that simply could not be. “I feel I have to apologize. First for my daughter and what she did to you. It was selfish and very unfair to you.”
“And yet,” Adam said, “she saved countless lives. Protected a number of innocents, including Noah and his Queen. If I had not been here, I could not have played a crucial part in Ruth’s capture. And your daughter brought me to this time, this perfect time, where I could claim a Vampire as my Imprinted mate.”
“A Vampire ...” Jacob gaped at him. “A Vampire?”
“Jasmine and I are Imprinted. Something that never would have been accepted—”
“Jasmine!” Jacob blurted out incredulously, cutting his brother off. “Jasmine?”
Adam cocked his head and narrowed his eyes on his sibling.
“Is something wrong with Jasmine?” he asked coldly.
“I ... uh ... no,” Jacob said wisely. “I like Jasmine a great deal. She is a strong fighter and is doggedly loyal to Damien. She has made a fine commander of the Nightwalker Sensor Network. She ...” He looked at his brother, his brows lifting in a bit of surprise. “She is rather a great deal like you in those aspects.”
“I think I will take that as a compliment,” Adam said with a smug little smile.
“Enjoy it. I doubt you will have many more from me,” Jacob shot at him.
And just like that, four centuries melted away from Jacob. It was as though they were standing around the practice ring again, trading barbs and boasts. As if no time at all had passed.
Adam smiled and sighed, glancing at his brother through lowered lashes. “Was it very hard on you? Like you said? Whether I meant to leave the job to you or not ... it became yours. And I know very well the weight of that mantle. How heavy it can be. But to inherit it in such a way, and when you never aspired to it ... I can only imagine how hard it must have been for you.”
Jacob drew a breath and let it out slowly as he looked into those light green eyes he remembered as sure as he knew his name.
“I was alone, Adam. Very alone. The worst of it was not so much being compelled to become Enforcer; it was becoming Enforcer without benefit of your guidance. I missed my brother. I could not figure out what had happened to you. I searched for answers, but there were none to be had.” Jacob shrugged. “None of that matters now. I have my answers and I have my brother. I was wrong to lash out at you. I was wrong to feel anything but grateful that you are here.”
Jacob reached for Adam’s hand. His brother caught hold of it and pulled him close. Adam embraced Jacob with love and strength, with affection he probably wouldn’t have shown him four centuries ago. But this past week with Jasmine had taught him a great deal about exposing his emotions and acknowledging them quickly, because there was no telling if he would have the opportunity to do so ever again.
“Come,” Jacob said with the first real sense of rightness he had felt in days, “there’s someone I want you to meet.”