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|Damien(Nightwalkers #4) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Some of it was also frighteningly deadly in consequence and, in her opinion, conveyed very supportable logic for why feeding on other Nightwalkers had evolved into the taboo it now was. In truth, it was such a cold and deadly piece of logic that it had the potential to drive Damien away from his supposed love and, with any luck, back into their normal, quiet routine.
Jasmine, however, was forced to remind herself how much she hated normalcy and quiet routine. A couple of weeks ago she had been ready to lie down in the ground for a century. Today, she was reeling with thoughts and choices and, she had to admit, the potential for adventure and the future risk of existence that so many Vampires like herself thrived on. But should she risk Damien's well-being, possibly his life, for the sake of entertaining herself? Not that the danger was a definite. If it were, she would not hesitate to act. Because however she felt, whatever happened, she knew she would always put Damien first.
She would die for him.
These long-buried truths and dangerous consequences could die as well, Jasmine considered. Say, for instance, if the Library were to suddenly burn to the ground, the cursed book on her bed included. Was it so far-fetched an idea that a torch might come too close to one book, accelerating a catastrophic obliteration of all these secrets that should have stayed in their musty tomb? What would they really be missing out on if such a thing happened? They had survived this long…
Jasmine never would have thought herself capable of it, but she could not turn her back on the tempting idea that this volume, so full of information, could lead to something so much more vital and beautiful than bare survival alone could ever compare to.
Bang. She was back at the beginning again. Circle complete.
Jasmine took her hand off the book so she could slap herself on her aching forehead. This was ridiculous! For all her age, wisdom, and experience, she could not sort out what to do with a stupid book and one short woman? If Damien married Syreena, she would become Jasmine's Queen! Jasmine would become the subject of a twit who had no clue as to what benefited the Vampire race!
And, if Damien did marry her, he would need Jasmine more than ever. Leaving him would make him domestically vulnerable. Stephan, head of Damien's organized fighting forces, was fine when it came to dealing with other races and human hunters, but Jasmine didn't think he had what it took to kill his own en masse should a civil war break out. And even if they managed to avoid internal strife of that magnitude, it would still invite a wave of challengers to his throne. There was no way Damien could ever survive such an onslaught. Not alone. Not without someone who did not care who she killed for the sake of protecting him.
Someone who would not get their little twiggy arm broken at the first flick of an enemy finger, then lie around crying about it. If Jasmine stayed, though, it would mean she would have to give them both her support, including Miss Twiggy.
She would rather run across a desert naked at noon on a bright, sunny day.
And once more, back to her own start she went.
Why was this so hard? Why couldn't she just kill the bitch and end it all?
It was just then that Jasmine felt an acute, throbbing sparkle skip across her senses so suddenly that her head and sinuses flared with sharp pain. She sat up quickly, gaining her feet and becoming instantly alert to the fact that there was an intruder in the house.
It was no one she knew, and not a Vampire. She would have felt a Vampire coming the moment they crossed into the territory, no matter how distracted by her own thoughts she had been. Besides, Damien was the one who attracted that sort of trouble, not her. Anyone who wanted to challenge the Prince would not want to come up against her first. The wisest thing would be to wait until Damien was on the premises without her being present.
Jasmine turned toward the door just as the air pressure in the room snapped in violent displacement. She flinched as her sinuses were abused once again by the pressure change. By the time Ruth turned to face her, however, Jasmine was flashing a serious set of fangs and hissing sharply in threat, crouching at the ready.
"Hmm, scary," Ruth remarked, giving Jasmine a theatrical shiver. "Down, girl," she ordered as if speaking to a dog, pointing a commanding finger to punctuate the insult. "I am not here to hurt you."
"Not that you could," Jasmine spat, her fingers curling slightly until they were hooked into ready claws.
"If you insist." Ruth waved the matter off, conceding as if it did not matter in the least. "I am only here to deliver the littlest bit of a message to your Prince, his bitch, and all the rest of the little dogs back where she comes from, including the warrior who murdered my child. You tell them that things are going to change from this moment on. If they thought I was trouble before, wait until they see what I can do now. My power will continue to grow, I promise you. Just as my rage and my thirst for vengeance grows. Truly, Jasmine, it is quite an extraordinary thing. But you would know all about that now, would you not?"
The Mind Demon appraised Jasmine for a moment and then suddenly exploded into the Vampire's mind. Shocked, Jasmine staggered under the force of it. She was powerful in her own right, but all of her barriers and resistances were like dust compared to the presence that stormed through her thoughts.
"I know your mind, poor, troubled girl," Ruth said softly. "Those shapechangers are quite the nuisance, are they not? But why struggle so? You know what you want to do in your heart. I can show you how to get him back, you know. No one would ever be the wiser. I could…"
Ruth suddenly looked down at the bed, her pale blue eyes widening.
"Where did you get that?" She spoke with awe as she reached for the volume with eager hands. Jasmine instantly went to stop her, but found she was rooted in place. Shocked that her body would fail to serve her, she became enraged. But it was Ruth who began to shout. "A Library? A Nightwalker Library? That was supposed to be my treasure! All those months of digging in that frozen wasteland!" Ruth's head snapped up as she narrowed evil eyes on Jasmine. "You have seen the Black Tome. I knew we were close! I could feel it!"
Jasmine had a feeling she knew what Ruth was talking about. There was a book in the Library, a centerpiece set on its own pedestal, with black covers and page after page of magic spells in every language imaginable and, like the other books hidden within the Library, even some that were unimaginable.
Jasmine felt her stomach clutching with impotent anger; at Ruth, yes, but mostly at herself. Her mind had become a diamond mine for the Demon, and Ruth was excavating its priceless treasures with such ease, as if Jasmine were five, not five hundred. She should have been powerful enough to push away the intrusion of a Mind Demon.
"Ah, but I am no ordinary Demon. Or hadn't you heard? In fact, I think it is safe to say that I am not really a Demon anymore. And why would I want to be, I ask you? All that hypocrisy and holier-than-thou preaching they do…it turns my stomach. You know"-she turned back to Jasmine, brightly smiling-"I believe I have the answers you are looking for, Jasmine. Since you have been such a delightful resource, I don't see why I shouldn't share in return.
"So many questions spinning in your head, Vampire. You could have peace and have the exciting life you have always craved. I tell you, every day I learn something new. I see things you would not believe. The world is my oyster, and you could not possibly begin to consider what little pearls like this," she rubbed the leather of the volume as she hugged it to her chest, "can do. But the biggest pearl, the Black Tome, what we could do with that!
"I have grown wiser about magic, Jasmine. All along I kept looking for a human necromancer powerful enough to join with me and be an effective partner. Now I realize there is no such thing! That is why we always defeat the human necromancers. Magic was never meant to be theirs, it was meant for us! That is why they always turn evil. It is too much for them to manage. It was meant for Nightwalkers."
Ruth moved closer to Jasmine, reaching to touch the paralyzed woman's cheek as she looked deep into her stormy, dark eyes.
"I know how powerful you are. Even now, your struggles against me are wearing me out. But imagine your power tripled, or even raised to the tenth power. There are no limits. Not once you shed all these mortal limitations we all seem to have picked up. Come, Jasmine," she coaxed eagerly, "I already have my first, my right hand man, so to speak." She giggled like a girl with a crush. "But you can be my left hand. You can take my daughter's place. You would never want for anything at my side. I would never abandon you for another. I am not like a fickle male. I will not make you weak with pain. I will fill you with the strength of power! I know you are thinking about it. I feel you thinking about it. Come, let me show you the truths that make lies of everything you have been told to believe."
Jasmine could not speak. She was breathing hard with emotion, something she had not done in over a century. She closed her eyes, thinking of Damien and everything they had shared for the past five hundred years. Who would she be without him? Who could she be without him?
Jasmine was dismayed to realize she was trapped once more in another, never-ending circle.
Syreena awoke to pain and bliss.
The former was caused by her arm, the splinted limb hurting more as it healed than it had originally. The latter was because she was surrounded by the warmth and arms of her mate. She turned toward him, sliding her body over his with a long sigh. He stirred instantly from his sleep, seeking for the softness of her face with his lips and the touch of graceful fingers.
Without opening his eyes, he traced the shape of her features, his fingertips moving slowly over her chin, cheeks, brows, and then soft eyelashes. By the time he touched her lips again, he could feel her gentle smile.
"I could get very used to this," she told him on a reverent whisper.
"I think you are going to have to," he rejoined with a low chuckle. "You will not be waking beside anyone else for the rest of your life."
"That is quite an extended promise, Prince Damien," she observed, her eyes flicking open to look up into his. She was also growing used to the magnificent depth in his midnight blue eyes. Sometimes, she felt as though he looked into parts of her even she could not see. Then he would say something that only reinforced that idea all the more.
"One I intend to keep, Princess Syreena," he said quietly, punctuating the solemn oath of his words with the lingering seal of his mouth.
Syreena tried to move more aggressively against him as the kiss changed and grew in intimacy and intensity, but he placed a restraining hand above her right breast and pushed her away gently.
"You need rest and healing, sweetling, not lovemaking," he tenderly scolded her.
"It doesn't hurt," she argued, capturing his mouth before he could formulate a further protest.
He pushed her away once more, giving her a look full of reprimand. "You are a liar," he accused her.
"Well, it doesn't hurt much, then," she edited impatiently. "Why don't you let me be the judge of my own capabilities?"
"Because the idea of causing you pain is detestable, Syreena. I might add that pitting my good intentions against my overwhelming need for you is terribly unfair and inconsiderate of you."
Syreena sighed and her bottom lip plumped out in a little pout of dejection. "I suppose so, if you look at it that way. Forgive me?"
"Always," he assured her, giving her another kiss to make it official. "Especially when I must move on to more difficult topics than making love to you."
"I hardly know where to start." He sighed with brutal honesty as he settled back again. He ran an absent hand over his whiskers, his entire expression morphing into the seriousness he had promised.
"Then may I?"
Damien arched an eyebrow in curious invitation.
"Let us begin with Jasmine," she said.
"Yes. Jasmine." Damien reached to flick a finger down her cheek. "What can I do that will satisfy you both? I am at a loss for a solution at present."
"I can only tell you what I would prefer you not do with her," Syreena answered. "Do not feed from her ever again. I could never bear her scent permeating you like that. I am not certain I could be held accountable for my actions if I were faced with such a thing. I never thought I would be jealous, but I suppose I am."
"No more or less than I would be. I have no intention of feeding off another female again, unless it is some kind of dire emergency. It would be like you allowing another Vampire to drink from you. I am positive my reaction would be possessive and probably violent."
"Well, we seem to be agreed on these things so far. What exactly do you wish me to tell you about Jasmine? I will not tell you to stop being friends with her. I understand that would be like asking my sister to renounce her friendship with Anya. They grew up together. They are like sisters. I understand that it is similar between you and Jasmine."
"Except Anya is gracious in her acceptance of your arrival in Siena's life and your elevation to a position above her in importance and perhaps even love as well as loyalty. Jasmine…I think Jasmine is incapable of that generosity."
"Because she feels threatened. We will have to find a way to make her understand that it is not my intention to cast her to the wolves."
"No," Damien said, shaking his head. "It can have nothing to do with you. She would be insulted if she felt you were deigning to tolerate her presence. The friendship will remain, but it will have to be Jas's decision whether she stays under my roof or not. I would hate to lose her. She is a skilled hunter. Second only to me, I believe."
"You could use her skills to protect our territory," Syreena agreed. "I have a feeling we will need a great deal of protection."